2006 Consumer Protection Record
The 2006 Wisconsin Legislative Session is
coming to a close and all eyes are now turning to the November
elections. However, our legislators took action on several important
consumer protection issues before they left for the year.
First, the good news. The Legislature adopted
Assembly Bill 574, a bill that would prohibit the use of “negative
options” in contracts. You may remember my October column
where I talked about this bill in some detail. Basically, “negative
options” happen when the seller argues that you have agreed
to a contract with him by simply not responding to his offer.
This bill was sponsored by Representative Sue Jeskewitz (R–Menomonee
Falls), one of the leading consumer advocates in the Legislature.
The successful bill passage follows nearly nine years of efforts
by Representative Jeskewitz and former Representative Cliff
Otte of Sheboygan Falls to move this legislation forward.
The bill prohibits the following seller billing
practices: 1) billing a person for consumer goods that the consumer
has not agreed to purchase, 2) billing a consumer at a higher
price than was agreed to unless the consumer agreed to the higher
price or was given the opportunity to cancel the contract, 3)
billing the consumer under an agreement that is no longer in
effect, 4) offering free or reduced-priced goods or services
that commit the consumer to pay for other goods or services,
or 5) misrepresenting that a consumer’s failure to reject
or return consumer goods or services requires the consumer to
pay for those goods or services.
Governor Doyle was expected to sign this bill
into law in May.
Now for the less-than-good news. I wrote last
September about efforts by Representative Peggy Krusick, another
strong consumer advocate, to pass Assembly Bill 583. This bill
would regulate gift cards by requiring, among other items, disclosure
of the gift card’s primary terms including expiration
date and whether there are administrative fees.
The bill failed to advance through the Assembly.
A Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 392, was sponsored
by New Berlin Republican Senator Mary Lazich. Senate Bill 392
passed the Senate but ran into trouble in the Assembly. Representative
Krusick, along with Representative Jeskewitz, Representative
Mary Hubler (D–Rice Lake), and Republican Assembly Speaker
Pro Tem Steve Freese attempted to amend the Senate bill to make
the disclosure provisions stronger. The Assembly then tabled
the Senate bill for the session on a 49–42 vote when it
became clear there were not enough votes to pass the bill if
the stronger amendment was added.
The Legislature also failed to adopt Senate
Bill 251, a bill sponsored by State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D–Middleton)
to regulate traveling magazine sales crews. Erpenbach, one of
the Senate’s leading consumer advocates and author of
the state’s “Do Not Call” telemarketing law,
authored his bill in response to the horrible Subscriptions
Plus accident outside of Janesville in March 26, 1999, when
seven young people died and five others were seriously injured.
The bill was passed by the Senate but held up by the Assembly
Small Business and Consumer Affairs Committee and never advanced
to a full Assembly vote.
Have a safe and enjoyable summer.