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March 19, 2009

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Keith Weissglass (650) 688-6384
Melissa Figueroa (916) 651-4011


SACRAMENTO – After reviewing 331 proposals from residents around the state, State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) announced today the three winners of this year’s “There Oughta Be A Law” contest. Simitian’s annual contest invites Californians to submit suggestions for new legislation.

“I was gratified by the number of thoughtful, positive ideas that we received,” Simitian said. “Despite all the challenges our state is facing this year, people are still taking the time to get involved. This is proof positive that folks want to make a difference.”

Simitian’s “There Oughta Be A Law” contest is now in its eighth year. To date, fourteen entries from previous years have been signed into law.

This year’s first winning entry addresses the urgent need to reduce commuter traffic by proposing tax incentives for employers who motivate employees to get out of gridlock. The second bill would create a solution for the estimated one million Californians who need to dispose of medical “sharps” waste such as insulin needles. The third winning entry would establish a collection system for ionizing smoke detectors to keep the small amounts of radioactive material they contain out of landfills.

Getting traffic moving: Commuter Trip Reduction – SB 425 – Liz Levy

As a long-time resident of Soquel, Liz Levy grew concerned about the long delays and environmental threats posed by California’s ever-increasing commuter traffic. Forty percent of state emissions come from vehicles, making this the biggest contributor to global warming in the state. Levy sought a solution that could reverse this trend without breaking the state’s budget. Based on a successful Washington state program, she proposed creating tax incentives for employers who succeed in motivating employees to reduce traffic gridlock.

“So many of the cars on the road have two to three empty seats during commute times,” said Levy. “This bill would encourage people to ride-share for their own good and the greater good, with their employer’s support.”

The Vehicle Trip Reduction bill, SB 425, will create a program that gives businesses an incentive to engage in substantive commute reductions. The bill aims to reduce the number of cars on the road and the amount of time drivers spend on their commute.

“Commute delays sap our quality of life,” said Simitian.  “They lower our effectiveness at work and cost us all a small fortune.”

Typically, “Oughta” bills are passed in a single year, but Simitian has pledged his long term commitment to this ongoing effort throughout his term in office. “Given the state’s budget situation, we may need to start small.  But we need to start,” said Simitian.

Long term, Simitian said he plans to author legislation that would set specific targets for traffic reduction, identify which strategies work, and create tax incentives for companies that motivate employees to take single-passenger cars off the road. 

“California often sets the pace for environmental progress, but when it comes to commuting we are quite literally stuck in the slow lane,” said Simitian, who chairs the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

The key to success, Simitian emphasized, is incentives. “Observation tells us that too many of us are still driving solo, even if that means sitting in traffic. We need to figure out what motivates us to get out of our cars, and provide incentives to encourage that effort. That’s what this bill will do.”

Creating safe disposal solutions: Medical Sharps Waste – SB 486 – Betty Lipkin

Betty Lipkin, a San Carlos resident, suffers from multiple sclerosis. She has two containers of “sharps” (a type of medical waste that includes syringes and lancets) in her home, and decided it was time California gave her a way to safely dispose of them. Lipkin proposed a law to allow patients like her to manage their sharps conveniently and legally.

“There has to be a way to get rid of these containers that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg,” said Lipkin. “I’ve never been able to find a way to do it, and I think it’s time we do something about it that’s ecologically sound and safe.”

It is estimated that over one million people in California use syringes and other sharps for home health care. SB 486, the Sharps Waste bill, will establish a system for handling this waste that is safe, convenient, and sustainable.

“For anyone with a family member who takes insulin or other medical injections, this idea will seem long overdue,” Simitian said. “We tell patients they can’t throw sharps away, but until now there hasn’t been an easy, safe solution. SB 486 will make it possible to do the right thing, and we’ll all be safer as a result.”

Preventing radioactive hazards: Smoke Detector Collection Act – SB 317 – Ron Pomerantz

San Jose Fire Captain Ron Pomerantz was alarmed to hear that there were no safe management requirements for ionizing smoke detectors. Though vital for home safety, the devices contain Americium, a radioactive by-product of plutonium. Pomerantz proposed a program to collect and safely manage ionizing smoke detectors.

“I hope that we end up with a safer product and reduce the consequences of ionized detectors in our environment,” said Pomerantz.

The Smoke Detector Collection Act of 2009, SB 317, will provide for safe and efficient end-of-life management for ionizing smoke detectors. “Smoke detectors save lives, so when they break, those devices must be replaced,” said Simitian. “This bill will help ensure that detectors containing radioactive components are disposed of safely.” 

When asked why he chose the proposal, Simitian replied, “Radioactive materials don’t belong in our landfills. It’s just common sense.” California already has similar laws in place for mercury and other toxins.

Simitian also recognized the hundreds of other participants in this year’s contest. “There were countless good ideas this year,” Simitian said. “I’m always gratified that this contest strikes such a chord with residents in my district and around the state.”
Since Simitian created the contest eight years ago, other legislators have launched “There Oughta Be a Law” contests in California and around the country.  Simitian said he is delighted the idea has caught on.
In addition to seeing their bill introduced in the state legislature, the winners will have the opportunity to testify for their bill before a Senate committee. They will also join Senator Simitian for lunch in Sacramento and receive a flag that was flown over the Capitol.

“But the real prize,” Simitian added, “is having the chance for your idea to improve the lives of 38 million Californians.”