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February 27, 2006

For More Information, Contact:
Hema Sareen Mohan at (650) 688-6384


SACRAMENTO – After reviewing more than 260 bill ideas from within and outside of his district, State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) today announced this year’s winners in his “There Oughta Be A Law” contest. 

The annual competition invites Californians to submit ideas for new state legislation.  The first winning entry proposes to protect California seniors against predatory lending practices.  The second entry aims to save taxpayer dollars and help the environment by requiring any transit agency that receives state funds to use only water-saving plants—and other vegetation that is naturally found in California—for landscaping.  Simitian will also reintroduce a winning bill idea from last year’s contest to safeguard emergency aid workers from reckless drivers, which the Governor vetoed.

Protecting Seniors Against Predatory Lending – (SB 1609) – Shirley Hochhausen
As a law professor and volunteer attorney at Community Legal Services, an East Palo Alto nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income people, Shirley Hochhausen has seen many seniors fall prey to predatory lending practices in connection with “reverse” mortgage loans.  A reverse mortgage can help homeowners turn the value of their homes into cash without having to pay mortgage payments.  It can, however, be a complex, expensive and confusing type of financial arrangement.  That means seniors are especially vulnerable. 

“Reverse mortgages can be a vital financial resource for some seniors who are financially strapped, but no one should be made to sign loan documents they don’t understand or be tricked into buying other financial services when they get a loan,” said Hochhausen. 

SB 1609 will help protect seniors by (a) requiring independent counseling for all reverse mortgage borrowers, (b) requiring that a written translation of loan documents for a reverse mortgage be provided in the language the contract was negotiated, and (c) prohibiting reverse mortgages from requiring the purchase of an annuity. 

Simitian said, “A growing population of seniors who are ‘house rich, but cash poor’ makes these protections particularly timely and important.”

Saving Taxpayer Dollars and Helping the Environment (SB 1608) – Margaret Okuzumi
Margaret Okuzumi suggested this bill idea that requires any transit agency that receives state funds to use only water-saving plants and other plants naturally found in California, known as “native plants,” for landscaping. 

Okuzumi, who became aware of this problem through her work as executive director of the Palo Alto-based nonprofit Bay Rail Alliance said, “People come to California because it’s a special place.  To me, SB 1608 is a no-brainer.  Using native plants restores habitats for our birds and wildlife, will save our state a ton of water and money, and preserves our uniquely beautiful California landscape.” 

Having evolved in California, native plants are well suited to the climate of their region, and therefore do not require as much water or maintenance as vegetation that is from outside of California. 

As Simitian noted, “Money and water are two things almost always in short supply.  We shouldn’t waste either; and government should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

“Move Over, Slow Down” for Highway Safety (SB 1610) – Daniel Frederick Leon

In 2004, tow truck driver Daniel Frederick Leon proposed a common sense measure to help save lives on our highways.  Simitian introduced the bill in 2005 as Senate Bill 800.  Despite passing out of the Assembly on a 74-2 vote, and out of the Senate on a 25-12 vote, the Governor vetoed SB 800.  It was the first and only veto by a governor of a “There Oughta Be A Law” entry in the contest’s five year history. 

When hearing about the veto, Leon said, “I’m very disappointed.  Recently, two officers lost their lives and another lost his legs when all they were trying to do was protect us.  I’m glad that Senator Simitian will continue to fight for this bill.”

It was during a routine call to an accident that Leon noticed that a motorist had managed to drive through the accident scene while he was still working in the area.  “I could have been killed,” said Leon. 

The near-fatal incident, and learning of police officers, tow truck drivers, and other emergency aid workers who have lost their lives while assisting others, prompted Leon to submit this bill idea that will require motorists to change lanes as they approach a stationary emergency vehicle or tow truck. 

“I’ve talked with folks in the Governor’s office about the veto,” said Simitian, “and I’m cautiously optimistic that we can find common ground if we give it another try.”  Simitian will reintroduce SB 800 as SB 1610. 

This marks the fifth year for Simitian’s “There Oughta Be a Law” contest.  During the past four years, eight winning entries have been signed into law.  “This contest is proof positive that one person can make a difference,” said Simitian. 

Commenting on the more than 260 entries the contest drew, Simitian added, “I’m gratified that this invitation to participate in the legislative process continues to strike a chord with the people in my district.” 

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 37 million Californians.”