Monday, April 5, 2010

Help ensure that consumer-protection bills make it through the General Assembly

As the session winds down (or careens madly to a close), there are a number of consumer-related bills that may pass in the next few days. Please contact your Senator or Delegate to ensure that the Maryland General Assembly acts to prevent financial abuse and promote consumers’ interests this session.

1. HB 379-Transparency in Consumer Arbitration

Most corporations now require mandatory arbitration clauses, which means that the consumer waives the right to sue or participate in a class action suit. Instead, all legal claims are submitted to and decided by an arbitrator. It is difficult to buy a car, get insurance, or even receive medical treatment without signing a mandatory arbitration clause. Yet, consumers have virtually no information about the individuals and organizations that perform arbitrations. HB 379 will provide much needed sunshine into this murky process by providing consumers with information about the individuals and groups that perform arbitrations for companies. This will level the playing field by providing consumers with the same information about arbitration firms as corporation.

HB 379 has passed the House and will be heard in Senate Finance tomorrow.
Please contact members of the Senate Finance Committee and urge them to pass HB 379.

2. SB 701 Debt Settlement

The Senate Finance Committee has recommended that an interim working group be established to determine the best way to regulate the debt settlement industry. MCRC has been named to the study, along with the Attorney General's office, the Commissioner of Financial Regulation's office, and members of the debt settlement industry. The motion to establish the group was passed by Senate Finance.
The motion to establish a debt settlement working group will be voted on by the Senate tomorrow. Please contact your Senator and ask them to support this initiative!

3. SB 907/HB 1199 Motor Vehicles-Salvage-Standards and Requirements

The bill is an effort to improve the standards for total loss reporting for salvage vehicles. Unfortunately, as drafted the bills would have negative unintended consequences for consumers and law enforcement officials. The bill contains a number of loopholes that would inadvertently make it easier for Marylanders to unknowingly purchase a rebuilt wreck or flood-damaged car. Specifically, the bill requires insurance companies and other to disregard "nonstructural damage," which includes the cost of repairing electrical systems, braking, and steering. Consequently, flood-damaged cars that have electrical (but nonstructural) damages would not receive a salvage certificate and consumers would not know how badly the vehicle was damaged.

The bill is in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
MCRC is recommending a working group to close these loopholes and improve standards for total loss reporting. Please contact Senators on Judicial Proceedings and urge them to oppose SB 907/HB 1199 and instead support the establishment of a working group on the issue.


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