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March 29, 2010

For More Information, Contact:
Melissa Figueroa (916) 651-4011


SACRAMENTO – State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has announced three winners of this year’s “There Oughta Be A Law” contest. Since 2001, Simitian has invited Californians to submit suggestions for new legislation. To date, fifteen winning ideas have been signed into law. This year, his office received 426 proposals from residents throughout his district and across the state.

“I was gratified by the many thoughtful suggestions I received,” Simitian said. “Despite the challenges our state is facing, folks are taking the time to get involved. I think it’s proof positive that folks care about their state and want to make a difference.”

This year’s first winning entry would protect the rights of Californians who are improperly cited by traffic enforcement cameras, more commonly referred to as “red light cameras”. The second bill would enable more voters to cast their ballots at a local polling place. The third winning entry would issue a formal apology from the State of California to Italian Americans interned during World War II.

Protecting Drivers: Red Light Camera Accountability – SB 1362 – Vera Gil

During the last two years, San Jose resident Vera Gil received three tickets from “red light cameras” – for a car in Southern California she had never driven.

Tickets from automated traffic cameras are issued remotely by private companies. As a result, it sometimes took Vera Gil many steps to demonstrate her innocence and clear her driving record. Based on her own frustrating experience, Gil proposed a law requiring improved policies and procedures for issuing and challenging “red light camera” citations.

Senate Bill 1362 would protect the rights of Californians cited by traffic enforcement cameras. 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.

“I was frustrated,” said Gil, who received three citations for somebody else’s violations. “Their license plate is one letter different than mine. It’s a mistake I expect to happen, but it took weeks and weeks to clear up. There was no information on who to talk to if you believed the ticket had been assigned to the wrong car. I think that the cameras are helpful, but it can be a real thorn in the side of the person who receives it accidentally.”

“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.”

Simitian said he thinks Gil’s case is “just the tip of the iceberg.”  While Gil’s contest entry was the only one of its kind this year, Simitian says the subject has come up fairly frequently as he hears from constituents; and notes that the city of South San Francisco recently dismissed 6,189 such tickets as the result of a procedural flaw.

Simitian notes that while he doesn’t oppose red light cameras per se, “they raise issues of accuracy, privacy and due process. And,” says Simitian, “I’m strongly of the view that traffic tickets should only be issued to improve public safety, not to raise revenue.”

Voters’ Rights: Polling Place Availability – SB 1342 – Lynn Silton & Dennis McBride

Under existing state law, the maximum size for an election precinct is 1,000 registered voters –
regardless of how few or how many of the voters in a precinct choose to cast their ballots by mail.  The net result, says Simitian, is that “some voters walk into polling places that are overstaffed and virtually empty, while other voters are waiting in long lines at polling places with the maximum number of election day voters.  This makes no sense.” 

Moreover, notes Simitian, “When the number of registered voters not using vote by mail (VBM) drops below 250 per precinct, county registrars have the option to eliminate the local polling place, effectively forcing some voters to use vote by mail. That’s what happened to Simitian’s Palo Alto constituent, Lynn Silton.

Simitian’s Senate Bill 1342 would give election officials the flexibility to adjust precinct size to reflect the actual number of election day voters, and allocate resources more efficiently.  The change would also make polling places feasible in more neighborhoods, allowing voters like Silton to vote at a polling place.

Silton says she prefers voting at her local polling place, where she feels confident casting a secret ballot. She proposed the legislation to give more voters that option. “My concern was that I wasn’t getting a choice,” said Silton. “I don’t doubt the honesty of our current registrar; but whenever possible, citizens should be involved in the process.”

“A healthy democracy depends on participation,” Simitian said. “While many folks are happy voting by mail, those who prefer voting in person should have that opportunity whenever possible. This bill will make it easier for counties to provide that option at a reasonable cost, and to allocate polling place resources sensibly.”

Senate Bill 1342 is a “recycled” winner in Simitian’s “There Oughta Be A Law” contest.  In 2007 contest winner and district resident Dennis McBride raised the same issue. Simitian authored legislation to address the problem; but the bill was vetoed by the Governor. According to Simitian, “the problem has only gotten worse in the intervening years, as more and more folks have chosen to vote by mail.”  Simitian’s decision to revisit the issue was based in part on conversations with staff in the Governor’s office who expressed a willingness to give the issue a “fresh look.”

An Acknowledgement and an Apology: Civil Rights and the Wrongful Internment of Italian Americans – SCR 95 – Chet Campanella

During World War II, the United States government designated more than 100,000 California residents as “aliens” and forced many to leave their homes or endure other hardships. While the majority of those targeted were of Japanese descent, 10,000 Italian Americans were among those relocated.

Chet Campanella, a resident of San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood, proposed that the State of California acknowledge these events and issue an official apology to Italian Americans for the wartime treatment of Italian Americans. Campanella’s parents, while not interned, were subjected to a curfew and searches of their home.

“We refer to it as the ‘untold story’ because it was classified – no one was supposed to know about it,” said Campanella. “Younger people probably didn’t know that this ever happened. I love this country, and I think a formal apology is so important to the older people, the survivors, before we die.”

Simitian has introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 95 that would formally acknowledge the experience of California’s Italian American community, and express regret for the State’s role in the internment of Italians and Italian-Americans during the Second World War.

“The mass internment of California residents was a sad chapter for our state. For survivors of that experience and their descendents, I hope this resolution will provide a long-due measure of recognition and respect,” said Simitian.

While the Resolution addresses an historic event,  Simitian says the issue, “has never been more timely.  Given America’s ongoing conflict abroad,” said Simitian, “the World War II experience is an important reminder of the need to respect the role and rights of those who have ties abroad.”

Commenting on the 426 entries the contest drew, Simitian added, “I’m gratified that this invitation to participate in the legislative process continues to strike a chord with 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 38 million Californians.”

Since Simitian created the contest nine years ago, 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