Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Consumers win victories on home improvement, employment rights, extending consumer protections

With less than two weeks left in the legislative session, consumers are winning important victories on a number of important issues in Annapolis and many of the legislative goals we’ve been working  for look like they’re on track for success.
Both the House and the Senate have now passed legislation that promises to give homeowners better protection and better information when they renovate their homes. The bills to renew the Maryland Home Improvement Commission passed in each chamber (SB 236 and HB 362) would require the MHIC to provide consumers much more information about their rights in home improvement projects and establish a searchable database that will make it much easier for consumers to find the complaints lodged against contractors. The Senate’s bill also promises to study the use of performance bonds to give homeowners much better insurance against the damages they might incur in expensive renovation projects than the state’s Guaranty Fund now provides, a reform we’ve long supported, and we’re hopeful that such a study will be part of the final bill.
We’re also very pleased that both houses have passed bills that would ban the use of credit checks in most employment decisions. This legislation (SB132/HB87) will prevent many Marylanders from being denied a job as a result of credit woes unrelated to their job performance or employment record. That’s a big victory for many jobseekers struggling to find work during tough times that fulfills one of the Consumer Caucus’ most important goals.
The House and the Senate have also now approved bills that would extend the Consumer Protection Act to cover transactions in which merchants buy commodities like gold, cars and homes from consumers   (SB 75/HB128). That legislation would close a loophole in our consumer protection law and give new protection to the cash-strapped Marylanders  who need to sell such goods.
We’re also very glad that a House Bill that threatened to encourage predatory lending by allowing mortgage brokers to take new finder’s fees for originating loans has now been withdrawn. That bill (HB 1323) would have weakened  the Finder’s Fee Act, one of our state’s most important consumer protections, and allowed brokers to take new fees out of the pockets of homebuyers. 

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