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California and the West | Capitol Journal

Since When Did Common Sense Get So Controversial?

July 12, 1999|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — Some legislative proposals need no explanation. People just hear about them and say, "Yeah, that's right."

These are simple bills. No annoying acronyms. No insider gibberish.

No big special-interest battles that draw heavy campaign contributions to influential legislators. They're not about lawyers vs. insurers, labor vs. business, teachers vs. tax cutters.

They're not even necessarily about "consumer protection," which too often means jobs for lawyers.

These bills directly affect ordinary people and improve their lives. Shamefully, there are relatively few pending in the Legislature.

But there are some.

My favorite is a bill that would require service stations to provide free air and water, plus clean bathrooms.

A bathroom without paper or dry floors is an insult, if not a health hazard. And if there's anything that should be free, it's air and water. If not, maybe the public should charge service stations for the air.

Assemblywoman Nell Soto (D-Pomona)--at 73, the Legislature's oldest member--introduced the bill after hearing complaints from senior citizens. Many had been driving out in the desert and couldn't find air or water machines that worked; and if they did, a quarter was needed. Maybe they didn't have change, or if they had it, time ran out before they could get around to all their tires with the air hose.

"Most of us drive clunkers that need a little bit more service," she says. "If I had my way, they'd just have the air and water on the islands like they used to be. But these are the modern times."

There now are laws that require service stations to provide air and water and to keep restrooms clean. But the laws aren't enforced. And many stations that do supply air and water charge for it. Soto's bill would encourage enforcement and make attendants give customers free tokens for the pay machines.

Today, she'll also amend her bill in a Senate committee to require that a sign be placed in each bathroom informing motorists the place should be clean. There'd be a phone number listed to call with complaints.

Already, presumably pressured by Soto's bill, Shell has begun advertising free air and water. "Give them credit for intelligence," says an aide. "They decided to join us rather than fight."

*

Another bill is more controversial, but it still fits the criteria of sensible and simple. It's a measure by Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) to require drivers to take a road test at age 75.

Currently, 70-year-olds need only take eye and written tests to renew their licenses. But by age 75, they're as dangerous behind the wheel as drivers in their early 20s, according to the DMV. By 80, they nearly match teenagers as road hazards. After 85, they're off the chart.

New teen drivers not only must take road tests, they're tightly restricted, with chaperons and midnight curfews. But they don't vote; old folks do. "The problem is a political one," Hayden notes.

The lawmaker introduced the bill after a voter came to him with a tale about watching his 15-year-old daughter being run over and killed in a Santa Monica crosswalk. The 96-year-old driver didn't even realize he'd hit somebody.

The bill is up for a vote today in the Assembly Transportation Committee, where there's resistance by some members, including septuagenarian Soto. To win approval, Hayden says he may have to raise the road test age to 80.

That seems a worthwhile compromise. It still would affect half a million elderly drivers.

*

A helpful bill by Assemblyman Rico Oller (R-San Andreas) would require every DMV office to assign somebody to ask people standing in line what they need. "You're in a long line, you finally get to the window and then find out you've been waiting in the wrong place," Oller says. But being a Republican in a Democratic Legislature, he's in the wrong place--and still waiting for votes in an Assembly committee.

Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar) has proposed a back-to-school tax holiday. His bill, now in the Senate, would grant a two-week sales tax exemption in August for each clothing item that costs under $100. But that would cut tax revenue by $90 million, and the Davis administration objects.

There's a bill by Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) in the Senate that would allow citizens to register to vote on election day. Now, they must register 29 days ahead. The winner would be democracy. But Republicans fear it would be Democrats, who historically have benefited from large turnouts.

I just said these bills are simple--not that they're nonpolitical. Regardless, I suspect most citizens wouldn't deliberate very long before passing them. Because, yeah, they're right.

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