There Oughta Be a Law…Or Not
Welcome to my "Oughta Be A Law...Or Not" constituent bill idea contest for 2017. The contest is open to all constituents of the 13th Senate District and allows residents to submit their ideas for improving the quality of life in our community and/or the state of California. Ideas can vary from local community improvements to statewide reforms. Applicants can create new laws or repeal / revise laws already on the books. I will select a winner in February and work toward implementing the reform during the legislative session. Applications can be submitted online. The deadline for entries has been extended to January 20, 2017. Click here for an application (Word document)
Here's an overview of past winners:
- Senate Bill 814 – Cracks down on excessive water use by households that flout mandatory reductions imposed during drought emergencies. The law, which took effect on January 1, was inspired by a San Mateo resident who was outraged over seemingly unrestrained water-guzzling by some households while others were striving to meet conservation targets. The resident wished to remain anonymous.
- Senate Bill 996 – Aids local nonprofit and religious organizations that provide affordable housing by increasing the assessed property value exemption from $2,000,000 annually to $10,000,000 annually. The new law, which took effect on January 1, applies to three local nonprofits, such as the Saint Francis Center in Redwood City and the Ministry Services of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul based in Los Altos Hills, which also provide housing, food and clothing services to low-income families. The two organizations both suggested legislation that would provide property tax relief to organizations faced with similar challenges.
Senate Bill 986 – Sought to reduce the fine on red-light violations involving a turn that would have been permissible if the motorist had fully stopped at the light before turning. The bill would have brought the base fine for a “rolling stop” to $35, aligning it with other similar violations. A San Bruno resident who urged the change said the current base fine of $100 can lead to fees and other penalties that amount to hundreds of dollars – an onerous amount for individuals and families living on fixed or low incomes. The bill did not survive the legislative process.
- Senate Bill 1040 – Sought to examine the challenges that can emerge with international adoptions and explore ways to address related issues that can lead to adoptive parents “rehoming” children who were adopted overseas, a situation that leaves the children vulnerable to mistreatment if not abuse. The bill was prompted by a San Mateo adoptive father of two who urged that children need to be protected from being handed off to new guardians – without oversight by social service or adoption agencies – because their adoptive parents no longer want them. The Legislature passed the bill, but it was vetoed.
2015 – Senate Bill 598
The all-volunteer La Honda Fire Brigade in San Mateo County won the seventh annual “Oughta Be A Law … or Not” contest with its idea to exempt California’s roughly 250 all-volunteer fire departments from sales tax on fundraising activities. About 25,000 volunteer firefighters currently serve California. But unlike other nonprofits, their departments have to pay sales tax for fundraising activities like pancake breakfasts, barbecues and T-shirt sales, which eats into the money raised to pay for equipment and other expenses to enhance their primary mission to protect lives and property. Under California law, not-for-profit organizations selling tangible personal property may qualify for an exemption for a specific activity if they operate in the public interest. The new law took effect January 1, 2016.
2014 – Senate Bill 915
Mills High School parents Christine Noma and Paul Seto submitted the idea that led to legislation to establish further Advanced Placement testing procedures that prevent testing administration mistakes from negatively affecting students, schools and testing agencies. In July 2013, 641 Advanced Placement exams taken by 286 Mills High students were invalidated, despite the fact that no evidence of cheating was reported or found. The scores were thrown out on a technicality – a small handful of students, through no fault of their own, were seated incorrectly. Students were not provided an opportunity to retest until mid-August – months after the tests were given and too late for some graduating seniors to participate. SB 915, which was signed into law on August 22, 2014, requires a testing agency to immediately initiate an investigation upon learning of a complaint of inadequate or improper test conditions. The bill also requires a retest to be offered within 30 days of the completion of the investigation, if the testing agency determines that scores need to be cancelled. And the bill requires that seating charts be filled out for each test administered.
2014 – Honorable Mention
Brothers Brandon and Matthew Wong, who have food allergies, and their mom, Sharon, of San Mateo share an honorable mention for inspiring Senator Hill to co-author a bill with Senator Bob Huff that requires school districts to stock epinephrine auto-injectors so that they can be used to help students who suffer a serious anaphylactic allergic reaction during school hours. Brandon, then 10, met Hill during the senator’s visit to the boy’s school last year and told Hill about the concerns and risks faced by students with food allergies. Matthew, then 12, later also met Hill as did their mom, an advocate for food allergy awareness. Their information and that from others affected by food allergies prompted Hill to explore legislation. Learning that Senator Huff had a bill in the works, Hill co-authored Senator Huff’s SB 1266, which the governor signed into law in September.
2013 – Senate Bill 589
Menlo Park resident Dan Hilberman submitted the bill idea that inspired legislation enabling individuals who vote by mail to confirm that their ballots were counted. “I’ve voted by mail for over a decade, but do not know if my vote counts because the registrar does not acknowledge my vote,” Hilberman wrote in offering his idea. SB 589 created a “free access system” and provides county registrars with flexibility to determine how they want to comply with the legislation by notifying voters on a walk-in basis, over the phone, or online. “The 2012 general election was the first time a majority of voters in California cast their ballots by mail,” said Hill. “As more voters chose this option, it’s critical that they be able to confirm their vote was counted.” Governor Brown signed SB 589 on September 9, 2013. The law took effect on January 1, 2014.
2012 – Assembly Bill 2309
Corey Geiger and Alan Talansky submitted the 2012 winner, which created a pilot program to link the state’s community colleges with local chambers of commerce to promote business development and job creation. AB 2309 would have boosted business development by helping early stage business ventures with new ideas to either find funding or to reach the point of operating stability. The competitive grant program is designed to also recruit and coordinate businesses and investors from local communities to provide funding, sponsorship and internships. The bill passed the Legislature with bipartisan support but was vetoed by Governor Brown.
2011 – Assembly Bill 459
The constituent who won the 2011 contest asked to remain anonymous. Their idea implements the National Popular Vote for President which reforms the Electoral College so that it guarantees the presidency to the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide. All of the state's electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). The bill has passed 30 legislative chambers in 20 states and is supported by more than 70 percent of people nationwide. The measure was signed by Governor Brown.
2010 – Assembly Bill 2654
The brainchild of Stan Fetterman of Millbrae, Assembly Bill 2654 would require firms that send out solicitation letters that appear to be on behalf of government agencies to include a disclaimer atop the first page stating: "This product or service has not been approved or endorsed by any government agency." Fetterman proposed the law after noticing that a property management firm that employs him had received a pile of official-sounding letters that, in one instance, demanded companies make a $225 payment to fulfill a bogus state requirement. Under the bill, these letters would be required to include the disclaimer and violations would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine. The measure passed the legislature but vetoed by the Governor in 2010. The bill was reintroduced as AB 75 in 2011 and was signed by Governor Brown.
2009 – Assembly Bill 1379
Eda Cook of Half Moon Bay and Scott Buschman of San Bruno were awarded co-winners of the 2009 contest for their proposals addressing the problem of spilled debris from trucks on highways and roads. The bill increased the base fine for spilling debris from commercial trucks on roads and highways. According to the California Highway Patrol, since 2003 there were over 7,000 collisions caused by spilled loads in California resulting in 10 fatalities. The measure passed the Legislature but was vetoed by the Governor.