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. 

    ____________________________________________

    Subscribe to MCRC blog updates via email; click here.

2 comments:

  1. when will these laws go into effect? How will consumers -- especially the most vulnerable -- learn about the new protections?

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's a great question. Some of the laws such as the improvements to the foreclosure mediation process will be posted on websites and housing counselors will be counseling home-owners about the process. But, MCRC and others need to work hard to find ways to inform consumers-especially those who don't have internet/computer access-about these new laws. MCRC is working with partners to find ways to get the word out.

    ReplyDelete