Thursday, April 28, 2011

Join MCRC and Megaphone for the premiere of our film "Stealing Trust"

City Paper Recommends MCRC & Megaphone film event as place to be Wednesday night!
http://weekly.citypaper.com/Events/e139216/emStealing_Trust_Marylanders_Speak_Outem

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Car buyers lose out with new auto fees

Read MCRC's letter in the Baltimore Sun regarding fee hikes for car buyers. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/readersrespond/bs-ed-auto-fees-letter-20110423,0,5725788.story

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Consumers Win New Protections in General Assembly

As Maryland's General Assembly ended last night, it proved to be a winning year for consumers.

All of MCRC's priority bills passed as well as a number of other consumer bills that emerged during the session. MCRC worked hard to advance the eight new bills that will become law as well as to beat back several bills that would harm consumers.

Here is a quick summary of the wins, losses, and draws this session:

Consumer Wins

  • HB 87/SB 132 Job Applicant Fairness Act-Helps job-seekers by prohibiting employers from using credit scores as part of their hiring process unless there is a bona fide reason
  • HB 128/SB 75-Expands Maryland's Consumer Protection Act to include merchants who promise to buy consumers home or cars. If a merchant with this kind of business behaves in a deceptive manner, consumers will now be protected under the law.
  • HB362/SB236-Protects home-owners from unscrupulous home-improvement contractors by requiring the Maryland Home Improvement Commission to include stronger consumer disclosures in contracts and post complaints about contractors on the Commission's website. The bill also requires a work group to study the issue of performance bonds to see whether to require contractors to purchase performance bonds for contracts that are not fully insured by the state's Guaranty Fund. 
  • HB 442/SB 309 -Transparency in Mandatory Arbitration-this bill provides important transparency for consumers who are bound by an arbitration agreement. The legislation requires arbitration firms and arbitrators to publish a record of their rulings for consumers to access. This allows consumers to have the same information that businesses do regarding the performance record of firms and individual arbitrators.
  • HB 482-Prohibits merchants from publishing a consumer's full debit card number on a receipt. Merchants have already been prohibited from publishing credit card information on a receipt. This measure will protect privacy and protect consumers from identity theft.
  • HB 728-Foreclosure Mediation-Expands the amount of time that home-owners facing foreclosure have to opt-in to Maryland's foreclosure mediation program from 15-30 days. This program enables distressed home-owners to meet face-to-face with servicers to try to work out a modification. The legislation also provides more consumer education to home-owners to let them know help is available.
  • HB 1022/SB741 Debt Settlement-Extends the FTC's advance fee ban to include intrastate, Internet, and other transactions; requires firms to register with the Commissioner of Financial Regulation; and requires firms to report upon their performance record. In three years, regulators will assess the data from the industry and recommend additional consumer protections and fees for the industry.
  • HB 1134-Requires moving companies to provide customers with a written estimate. The final cost may not exceed the estimate by more than 25 percent. 
In addition, advocates were able to defeat some bills that would have harmed consumers. One bill would have opened Maryland up to table-funding which is strongly correlated with sub-prime lending. Another would have charged consumers interest on pre-need burial companies.

Setbacks

A strong bill that would have protected the rights of consumers and workers to join class action suits failed late last night in the Senate. Employees and consumers often waive that right which is frequently embedded in consumer and employment contracts. Industry fought hard to continue to deny this right to consumers and workers. 

Thanks

Many thanks to the legislators who sponsored these consumer protection bills including Delegates Reznik, Jameson, Rosenberg, Frick, Niemann, Vaughn, Hucker, and Simmons as well as Senators Kelley and Pugh. Delegates Bobo and Lafferty offered strong support to consumers through their work on amendments and on the House floor, while Senators Frosh, Raskin, and Ferguson did their best to protect consumers in the Senate.

Commissioner Mark Kaufman, Deputy Commissioner Anne Norton, and Steve Sakamoto-Wengel from the Attorney General's office worked throughout the Session to ensure that strong consumer regulations were protected and new consumer protections were passed.

Many thanks to everyone who emailed or called their legislators. It made a huge difference and the results speak for themselves. 

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

End of Session -Three Consumer Bills Still Need Support

Monday, April 11th is the last day of the Maryland General Assembly's session. Many important consumer bills that MCRC has fought for this year are on track to pass and become law. However, the fate of several strong consumer bills will be decided between 8:00 am and midnight on Monday.

Please call your Senators and Delegates to Urge Support of the Following Bills. Your calls and emails may make the difference between passage and failure.

The three pieces of legislation that remain uncertain are:

  • House Bill 728-Foreclosure Mediation. The bill will improve Governor O'Malley's innovative mediation program which allows homeowners facing foreclosure to meet with servicers to try to work out a loan modification or some other positive outcome. The bill will make the materials homeowners receive more accessible and easily understood and will increase the time homeowners have to opt-in to the program from 15-30 days. This expanded opt-in time is important because many home-owners need assistance preparing their documents for the mediation and this provides them time to do it themselves or make an appointment with a housing counselor who can assist them. The bill passed out of Senate Judicial Proceedings on Saturday. It must be voted on by the entire Senate tomorrow.
  • House Bill 729-Class Action Waiver Unenforceability. This bill will protect consumers' and workers' right to join a class action lawsuit. Many consumer and employment contracts now contain a class action waiver which prohibits an individual from joining a class action lawsuit before dispute even arises. This prohibition limits an individual's ability to unite with other people who've had the same experience to seek justice. HB 729 passed out of Senate Judicial Proceedings on Saturday. It must be voted on by the entire Senate tomorrow.
  • House Bill 1022-Debt Settlement. The House version of the debt settlement bill extends the FTC advance fee ban to other types of transactions and requires debt settlement companies to register with the Commissioner of Financial Regulation and to report upon their performance. After collecting three years of data, the Commissioner of Financial Regulation and Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office will make recommendations regarding licensing and fee caps. HB 1022 must be voted on by the Senate and House tomorrow.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Improved Debt Settlement Bill Passes Out of Senate Finance-Call Senators TODAY

The Senate Finance Committee, responding to consumer advocates concerns, has passed an amended debt settlement bill out of Senate Finance. House bill 1022 retains important consumer protection provisions-it expands the scope of the federal rule prohibiting debt settlement firms from collecting upfront fees to include interstate, intrastate, internet, and face-to-face meetings. The bill also clarifies when the lawyers who settle debts will be regulated. Finally, the bill requires debt settlement firms to register with the Commissioner of Financial Regulation and to report annually on their performance.

In 2013, the Commissioner on Financial Regulation and the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's office will offer recommendations on licensing and fee caps.

Although MCRC would clearly prefer a bill that sets reasonable fee caps on debt settlement firms, we did not want to codify the debt enrolled fee structure in earlier versions of the bill which contained such high fee caps that the fees could wipe out any consumer savings.  This bill expands consumer protection and will allow regulators to work with consumer advocates and the industry to set appropriate caps based on data. We support this bill.


The bill will be voted on by the full Senate tomorrow (Friday)! 

PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS AND URGE THEM TO PASS HB 1022. Find your senator's contact information here: http://mlis.state.md.us/ 

Call or email Members of the Economic Matters Committee and urge them to support HB 1022

Dereck Davis dereck.davis@house.state.md.us 410-841-3519
David Rudolph david.rudolph@house.state.md.us 410-841-3444
Charles Barkley charles.barkley@house.state.md.us 410-841-3001
Ben Barnes ben.barnes@house.state.md.us 410-841-3046
Aisha Braveboy aisha.braveboy@house.state.md.us 410-841-3707
Emmett Burns emmett.burns@house.state.md.us 410-841-3352
Brian Feldman brian.feldman@house.state.md.us 410-841-3186
Jeanne Haddaway-Ricio jeannie.haddaway@house.state.md.us 410-841-3429
Hattie Harrison hattie.harrison@house.state.md.us 410-841-3486
Stephen Hershey steve.hershey@house.state.md.us 410-841-3543
Tom Hucker tom.hucker@house.state.md.us 410-841-3474
Richard Impallaria rick.impallaria@house.state.md.us 410-841-3334
Sally Jameson sally.jameson@house.state.md.us 410-841-3337
Benjamin Kramer benjamin.kramer@house.state.md.us 410-841-3485
Mary Ann Love maryann.love@house.state.md.us 410-841-3511
Brian McHale brian.mchale@house.state.md.us 410-841-3319
Warren E. Miller warren.miller@house.state.md.us 410-841-3582
Joseph Minnick joseph.minnick@house.state.md.us 410-841-3332
John Olszewski john.olszewski@house.state.md.us 410-841-3458
Steven Shuh steve.shuh@house.state.md.us 410-841-3206
Kelly Schulz kelly.schulz@house.state.md.us 410-841-3080
Donna Stifler donna.stifler@house.state.md.us 410-841-3278
Michael Vaughn michael.vaughn@house.state.md.us 410-841-3691

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Take MCRC's supporter survey-send it in by April 12th

MCRC is planning our work for the next three years. We want to hear from you. All feedback will be taken into account by our staff and board as we plan how we can best advance consumer protection and education in Maryland.

Take five minutes and let us know your thoughts. Go to this link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PWZ2WQ5 to fill out the survey.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Importance of class action lawsuits

Great article in Slate about the Wal-Mart discrimination lawsuit. Class action lawsuits are an important vehicle for individual workers to band together to achieve justice. Currently, some employment and consumer contracts ask individuals to waive their right to participate in a class action case. In the Maryland General Assembly, House Bill 729 would make sure that individuals still have the right to participate in class actions. The bill passed the House and was just heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Call your Senators and ask them to support HB 729! And keep following the Wal-Mart case.
http://www.slate.com/id/2289354

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