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February 1, 2004

For More Information, Contact:
Daryl Savage at (650) 688-6330


SACRAMENTO – After reviewing 231 individual ideas from around the State, Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) today announced this year’s winners in his “There Oughta Be A Law” contest. The third annual competition, which gives Californians a chance turn their ideas into State law, saw a record number of entries this year.

Protecting teenagers from abusing over-the-counter cough medicines, promoting driver safety through increased headlight use, and holding oil and gas companies accountable for the prices they charge at the pump—were the three bill ideas that won over Simitian this year.

In its first two years, Simitian’s contest generated about a hundred entries each year. “This year, however, was particularly difficult,” said Simitian. “There were many more entries to consider, and some were quite complex. I think these three ideas reflect important public concerns and, if implemented, could really do a lot of good.”

“Robotripping” and “Skittles”

Palo Alto Police Detective Wayne Benitez grew alarmed when he saw his first case of a student having a seizure due to an overdose of Coricidin—a common over-the-counter cold medicine. Following that incident, he had heard that groups of kids were passing around Coricidin tablets. Then, a 14-year-old had a mild heart attack, because of excessive use of over-the-counter cold medicines. It wasn’t long before he and Palo Alto Police Lieutenant Ronald Lawrence decided to do something about it. “It’s not just a passing fad,” says Benitez. “It’s in every community. There’s a growing use through the middle schools. We’re seeing it at an earlier age.”

Dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant in cold medicines, was the culprit, so the pair submitted a proposal to Simitian to prohibit the sale of over-the-counter medicines containing DXM to anyone under 18 years of age without a prescription. “Ingesting too much cold medicine can be just as hazardous as drinking too much alcohol. And it is easier for young people to obtain,” says Benitez. “We should make it harder to get in the hands of kids.”

The practice of using cough medicines for an easy high is sometimes referred to as “robotripping” or “tussing,” while Coricidin tablets are sometimes referred to as “skittles” or “triple C’s” when used for nonmedicinal purposes.

High Prices at the Pump

Seventeen-year-old Aaron Thomas Woolway’s mind isn’t on cough syrup. The senior from Woodside High School is thinking about high gas prices, and how to get more accountability from adults—particularly those who think it’s fair to charge California, and especially the Bay Area, higher prices.

Woolway, a new driver himself, brought the idea up in his government class at Woodside High. His teacher, Sarah Bunkin, assigned every student the task of coming up with a bill idea—all of which were submitted to Simitian. “I drive a lot, and I have to pay for my own gas,” said Woolway. “On the East Coast and in the Midwest, it’s a lot cheaper.”

Woolway wants representatives from the major oil companies to explain their pricing criteria to the Assembly’s Select Committee on Gasoline Competition, Marketing, and Pricing.

Wipers On/Lights On

The final winning entry is shared by two women, one in Cupertino and one in Menlo Park, who came up with the same idea. Both want to see a law that requires drivers to turn on headlights if visibility is reduced. 

Mary Lou Lyon, who has lived in Cupertino for 44 years, says, “Too many people don’t realize they can’t be seen at low-light times. If you have a gray car on a gray day, you can’t be seen,” she said. Lyon, a retired Homestead High School teacher, said, “Not everyone is 20 years old with 20/20 vision.”

The idea for ‘wipers on, lights on’ made it to the top of the list because “it’s commonsense, it’s cost-free, and it saves lives,” Simitian said, adding, “When we looked around the country, we found that 28 other states have already enacted similar laws. It’s time for California to join them. It’s a simple matter of public safety.”

Two of the winning proposals (“Robotripping” and “Lights On”) have been submitted as Assembly Bills; the third (“Gasoline Pricing”) will be the subject of a House Resolution calling for legislative hearings on the matter. All the winners are invited to the Capitol to testify to the Legislature on the need for the law they’ve proposed. They will also have lunch with Simitian and receive a state flag that has been flown over the Capitol.

If these ideas become law, these constituents will join five other winners of past contests, whose bill ideas have become part of California law.