Make up a law, win a prize

| 7/28/2004

Ever look at a problem and think, “there oughta be a law”?

People do it all the time. But when they ask California Assemblyman Joe Simitian, sometimes, he gives out prizes.

One of this year’s winners was Mary Lou Lyon of Cupertino, CA, whose idea – a bill that would require all vehicles in California to use their headlights during bad weather – is just a few short steps away from becoming law.

"Too many people don't realize they can't be seen at low-light times,” Lyon, a retired Homestead High School teacher, said in a written release. “If you have a gray car on a gray day, you can't be seen. Not everyone is 20 years old with 20/20 vision."

Existing California law already requires all vehicles to be equipped with headlights and to use them in darkness, with the exception of motorcycles.

However, Lyon’s suggestion, introduced by Simitian and now contained in Assembly Bill 1854, would also require use during inclement weather, which the bill defines as “a weather condition rendering a driver's visibility from a motor vehicle insufficient to clearly discern a person or another motor vehicle on the highway at a distance of 1,000 feet.”

The contest also produced another measure that hits near and dear to truckers’ hearts ‑ holding oil and gas companies accountable for the prices they charge at the pump.

That suggestion, passed on to Simitian from 17-year-old Woodside High School student Aaron Thomas Woolway, is not headed through the General Assembly yet, but will likely be part of a House Resolution that calls for hearings on fuel prices, according to a statement from Simitian’s office.

Woolway was a student in the government class led by teacher Sarah Bunkin. Bunkin assigned each of her students to come up with a bill to submit to Simitian.

In a release from the Assembly, Woolway said he wants the oil companies to explain how they arrive at the price they charge motorists.

“I drive a lot, and I have to pay for my own gas,” Woolway said. “On the East Coast and in the Midwest, it's a lot cheaper.”

This is the third year that Simitian, D-Palo Alto, has organized the contest, and this year, it brought in a record number of entries. More than 230 entries were received. The ideas offered by five past winners have become law in California.

- by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at