California coalition sets August legislative priorities

Nine consumer rights organizations, including Consumer Action, have sent a letter the California Legislature outlining pro-consumer legislative priorities during the final month of the 2009 session. The consumer coalition list highlights the high stakes pro-consumer and anti-consumer bills that are still alive at the start of the hectic final month of the legislative session.The consumer groups also will be on the lookout for last minute “gut and amend” bills. This is a sneaky aspect of the legislative process that is used by professional lobbyists who hijack and rewrite a dormant bill and use it as a vessel to ram through special interest legislation without the public scrutiny that would provoke opposition campaigns and public ridicule. In addition to Consumer Action, the groups are CALPIRG, California Alliance for Retired Americans, Congress of California Seniors, Consumer Federation of California, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, Consumers Union, Older Women’s League of California, and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Two anti-consumer bills

The coalition is urging lawmakers to defeat two bills that harm consumers. They are: AB 48 (Portantino) - Reauthorizes the Bureau of Private Post Secondary Education, a state agency that went out of business in 2007. The Bureau had a long record of failure to crack down against widespread allegations of fraud committed by for-profit proprietary colleges and vocational schools against their students. AB 48 in its current form would give state approval to these proprietary schools without establishing rules to stop them from luring students with advertisements that wildly inflate job placement rates, starting salaries of graduates, and the ability to transfer course credits to other four year degree granting institutions. 400,000 Californians are enrolled in proprietary colleges (such as University of Phoenix and Corinthian College). Most students at proprietary schools finance their education by taking out tens of thousands of dollars in federal student loans, and all too often end up deep in debt without receiving training that qualifies them for a living wage job. Unless AB 48 is re-written dramatically, it will help to legitimize an industry that defrauds thousands of Californians. AB 1200 (Hayashi) - Weakens auto insurance anti-steering law. California insurance policy holders have the right to select a body shop of their choice to repair damage to an automobile. Insurance companies often enter into contractual agreements with preferred body shops, and pay these shops a lower rate. Insurers attempt to influence the policy holder to select the insurer’s preferred shop without disclosing the financial arrangement between the repair shop and the insurance company. These shops often use inferior parts to complete the cut-rate repair, making the vehicle less safe, and potentially voiding a factory warrantee. AB 1200 would allow an insurer to exert undue influence on the choice of repair shop, by providing unsolicited repair shop recommendations, even after a policyholder has selected a repair shop, and without requiring the insurer to describe the contractual arrangement between the shop and the insurer.

Eleven good consumer bills

Consumer groups urge lawmakers to approve these pro-consumer bills: AB 2 (De La Torre) - Restricts health insurers from using an unintentional error on an insurance application as the rationale for rescinding coverage after a patient needs treatment. AB 171 (Jones) - Prohibits dentists’ offices from offering high-interest loans to patients under the influence of anesthesia, and from charging lines of credit before services are rendered. AB 260 (Lieu) - Prohibits mortgage brokers from making false or misleading statements to borrowers, prohibits steering borrowers to higher cost home loans, restricts use of negative amortization loans, and limits mortgage prepayment penalties. AB 764 (Nava) - Prohibits real estate brokers and others from collecting upfront fees for loan modification services until the terms of the loan have been modified. Requires a notice to consumer that it is not necessary to pay a fee to a third party to arrange a loan modification. AB 943 (Mendoza) - Stops employers from using a job applicant’s credit reports in the hiring process unless the credit report is relevant to job duties. AB 1503 (Lieu) - Limits the amount that emergency room physicians and surgeons can charge an uninsured patient with income below 350% of federal poverty level. AB 1512 (Lieu) - Prohibits the sale of expired infant formula, baby food and over the counter drugs after the “use by” date on product label. AB 1521 (Jones) - Restricts discrimination against individuals seeking health insurance by prohibiting variation in the commission or payment an insurer makes to a health insurance broker based on the insurance applicant’s health status, claims experience or occupation. SB 20 (Simitian) - When a security breach exposes a Californian’s personal financial information to an unauthorized person, state law requires a security breach notices to the affected person. This bill would make these breach notices more helpful, by requiring that they describe the nature of the breach and inform the consumer about how to deter identity theft by placing a freeze on his or her credit reports. SB 772 (Leno) - Exempts strollers, nursing pillows, infant carriers and bassinets from a state fire retardancy standard that has not proven effective in reducing fire deaths but that has exposed children to harmful toxic brominated fire retardant chemicals that are linked to cancer, neurological damage, and reproductive harm. SB 797 (Pavley) Bans the sale of baby bottles, sippy cups and containers of food and beverage intended for consumption by children age three or younger from containing bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic chemical linked to cancer, hyperactivity, impaired learning and reproductive harm.



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