I’ve been a little worried lately. My anxiety has been growing ever since the Legislature reconvened in January. Oh sure, one could certainly toss and turn at night about a state budget deficit of $17.5 billion that hangs, like Damocles Sword, over heads of every man, woman and child in California. But when one steps back and recognizes that the Legislature is, for the time being, in “Deficit Denial,” there is really no use spending your paycheck on ulcer medication or therapists. The time to worry about this problem, and to make a series of mud-bath appointments, is in July when the Legislature quickly cobbles together a 500-page bill in the middle of the night, votes it out, and proudly proclaims, the next morning, that is has birthed a “balanced budget.”

My real worry, the truth be told, is that the huge budget deficit is going to torpedo a glorious but secret tradition known in the State Capitol as the “Dumb Bill of the Year Award.” I know that we can keep this secret between us. This is how it works. Every year, small ad hoc groups of Capitol staffers secretly gather around the respective water coolers in their offices to nominate and select the “Dumb bill of the Year.” It’s an unofficial process and nobody talks about it in polite company. It just happens spontaneously. Of course, the “winner” the legislator who introduced the soon-to-be infamous bill, is never notified. It’s not quite like winning the “Friend of Taxpayers Award.”

The competition for the “Dumb bill of the Year Award” can become quite fierce. Over the last several years, the Dot-Com millionaires have supplied oodles of capital gains tax revenue to the state and this overwhelming Niagara of cash has acted like Miracle Glow for the Legislature. They think-up a wide variety of new and inane ways to spend our tax dollars.

I remember fondly a previous “Dumb Bill of the Year Award” winner. It was a bill that would have made rubbernecking in a traffic jam a crime. Talk about guilt by association. That would have been a fun enforcement challenge for the California Highway Patrol. But alas, the Miracle Grow money has disappeared in these first few years of the 21st Century. And now, all that we have is our memories.

Or so I thought. Just when things began to look pretty bleak in the lookout for a dumb bill for this year’s contest, AB 2483 (Diaz) appeared like a bolt out of the blue. You see, AB 2483 (Diaz) would create a new program in which immigrants who have committed traffic violations are given an option of taking a class called “How to Live in America” in lieu of paying fines or serving time in jail. The author writes in the language of the bill that it is intended to help these immigrants “better” understand California laws and public services.” The new program would be paid for by taxpayers and be implemented in the Counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Fresno and San Diego.

Ok, let me get this straight. If you or I, as U.S. citizens, “rolls” through a stop sign or commits a serious traffic violation, we have to pay a whopping fine. I support this requirement. Most of the fine amount will help pay for our court system. But if an immigrant – the bill doesn’t bother to differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants – “rolls” through the stop sign, or drives 70 miles-per-hour in a 25-miles-per-hour zone, r has five beers and gets pulled over for drunk driving, he or she gets to take a class about “How to Live in America.” I guess the author believes that an immigrant should not be expected to know about our laws prior to driving a multi-ton automobile or truck on our streets. And the immigrant traffic violator would pay a private traffic school company an enrollment fee for taking the class instead of paying the fine and helping to support our court system. AB 2483 would create a nice little market and stream of cash flow for these traffic school companies.

On the Statue of Liberty are inscribed the beautiful words from a poem written by Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” If AB 2483 is enacted, maybe we can grab a can of black spray paint and write on the base of the Golden Gate Bridge: “Give me your red light runners, your drunk drivers, your huddled tailgaters yearning to speed.” Nominations for the “Dumb Bill of the Year Award” are open until August 31st, the last day of the legislative session. Let the Games begin.

March 21, 2002

Postscript: AB 2483 died in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.