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March 3, 2011

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– State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has announced two winners in this year’s “There Oughta Be a Law” contest. The winning entries would improve screening for breast cancer, suggested by Amy Colton of Soquel, and update privacy protections for library patrons, suggested by Mary Minow of Cupertino. Simitian has introduced bills to turn those proposals into law.

In addition, Simitian has reintroduced two proposals from prior years. One would ensure fairness in the use of red-light cameras and the other would prohibit the sale to minors of over-the-counter medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM) which has the potential to be misused for a “Robo-tripping” high.

Since 2001, Simitian has invited Californians to submit suggestions for new legislation. To date, sixteen winning ideas have been signed into law. This year, he received a record 462 proposals from residents of the Eleventh Senate District and from around the state.

“I’m gratified that the opportunity to participate in the legislative process continues to strike a chord with people,” said Simitian, “and I’m impressed by the thought and effort that people have put into these suggestions. The overwhelming response shows that Californians remain hopeful about making their state better.”

This year’s “There Oughta Be a Law” bills would:
  • Improve breast cancer detection in women with dense breast tissue, which both makes them more susceptible to cancer and makes cancers harder to detect.
  • Ensure that privacy protections in libraries extend to the use of computers and online resources.

Simitian’s recycled “Oughta Be A Law” bills would:
  • Protect the rights of Californians who are cited by red-light cameras by establishing due process protections, and standards for camera placement and for the tickets based on them.
  • Regulate the sale to minors of dextromethorphan, or DXM, an ingredient in some medicines that can be abused to get high.

Breast Cancer Prevention: SB 173 – Amy Colton

The National Cancer Institute estimates that one in eight women will develop breast cancer. The risk for women with dense breast tissue, more than half of all women, is five times greater, yet the overwhelming majority of women are unaware of their own breast density. Worse, cancer is harder to discern in dense breast tissue. A January 2011 study by the Mayo Clinic found that in women with dense breast tissue 75% of cancer is missed by mammography alone.

Amy Colton of Soquel, a registered nurse and a cancer survivor, suggested a law requiring that women be informed of their breast tissue density when they receive a mammogram. Those with dense breast tissue would be informed of the value of further imaging, via ultrasound or MRI, and insurance would be required to cover the cost of the additional screening. 

“It was not until the successful completion of my own treatment for breast cancer that I learned that I had dense breast tissue,” said Colton. “I was shocked that I had never been informed that I was not only at an increased risk for cancer, but that if there was a tumor, it was unlikely to be detected by mammography alone.”

“I’m so thrilled that Senator Simitian agreed to take this on,” she said. “I’m really up for the challenge.”

“This bill will save lives,” said Simitian. “It will also save money, because treating cancer in its early stages is far less expensive than battling advanced cancer.”

Library Privacy: SB 445 – Mary Minow

California’s library privacy laws were created before the increased use of the Internet. As a result, an individual’s interaction with the library outside of the typical library book circulation is not protected as the existing law is written. 

Cupertino resident and library law consultant Mary Minow was inspired to submit her winning entry after attending one of Senator Simitian’s Town Hall meetings.  “We interact with libraries in a myriad of ways,” said Minow. “We no longer only read books that ‘circulate.’ Text messages, e-mail, online chat and downloads are all frequently used, but the law doesn’t protect your privacy with any of those forms of research.”

Senate Bill 445 aims to make a small but necessary change in state law to ensure that all patron use records are protected equally, and can be disclosed only to the appropriate parties.

“The change is important because it will allow us to use our libraries’ various resources to explore personal, sensitive topics such as physical abuse, addiction or medical conditions without worrying that others can see what we’re reading,” said Minow.

Red Light Camera Accountability: SB 29 – Vera Gil

Over a period of two years, Vera Gil repeatedly received tickets from red-light cameras – for a car in Southern California she had never driven. While she eventually proved her innocence and cleared her driving record, the ordeal convinced her that better driver protections were necessary.

Senate Bill 29 is a reintroduction of Gil’s winning submission from last year, which Simitian had introduced as Senate Bill 1362. It would require that cities using red-light cameras establish policies and procedures to better ensure that citations are properly and appropriately issued, and that motorists can effectively challenge incorrectly administered tickets.

“People who get tickets for someone else’s car need a way to straighten things out,” said Gil. “In my case, the license plate was one letter different than mine. I understand how that mistake happens, but it took weeks and weeks to clear up. There was no information on who to call. I think that the cameras are helpful, but a ticket can be a real thorn in the side of the person who receives it mistakenly.”

“Drivers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to challenge traffic violations they didn’t commit,” said Simitian. “This bill will protect folks who are innocent victims of mistaken identity, and makes it easier for them to clear their name.”

The bill also specifically prohibits the use of red light cameras for the purpose of raising revenue.

Regulate sale of DXM to minors (“Robo-tripping”): SB 514 – Wayne Benitez and Ron Lawrence

When used appropriately, dextromethorphan (DXM) is a safe and effective ingredient in over-the-counter cold and cough medicines; but taken in large quantities, it produces intoxication and hallucinations. Since it can be purchased legally by minors, it is popular as a recreational drug, known by the street names DXM, robo, skittles, Triple C, Vitamin C, dex, and tussin. To prevent abuse, Senate Bill 514 would prohibit the sale of any drug containing DXM to anyone under 18 years old, unless the person had a prescription.  A violation would be an infraction.

Restricting the sale of DXM was a winning submission in the 2004 “There Oughta Be a Law” contest from Wayne Benitez and Ron Lawrence, both with the Palo Alto Police Department at the time. The bill stalled in the Legislature.

Since then, however, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress and in half a dozen other states. And product manufacturers with the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which opposed Simitian’s 2004 effort, are now on board. “We continue to advocate for legislation that would ban sales of dextromethorphan medicines to those under age 18,” said the Association in a recent statement.

“How do you prevent it from getting into kids hands in the first place? That’s what this bill addresses,” said Benitez.

“Ingesting too much cold medicine can produce a dangerous, life-threatening result,” said Simitian. “Right now these products are cheap, easy and legal for young people to obtain. Prohibiting sale to a minor without a prescription will limit the opportunity for abuse.”

Simitian began his “There Oughta Be a Law” contest in 2001, after being elected to the California Assembly in November 2000, as a way of keeping more closely in touch with the concerns of his constituents. The winners will have their bill ideas introduced as legislation, have the opportunity to testify at a committee hearing on their bill, have lunch with Senator Simitian at the State Capitol, and also receive a California State flag that has flown over the Capitol.  “But the real prize,” said Simitian “is knowing that your idea has the potential of affecting 38 million Californians.”

Since Simitian created the contest, other legislators have launched “There Oughta Be a Law” contests in California and around the country.  Simitian said, “I’m delighted. I support anything we can do to spread the notion of public participation in the legislative process.”

To learn more about Simitian’s “There Oughta Be A Law” contest or to view previous winners, visit