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June 2006

Wisconsin Legislature Has Mixed
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higher price or was given the opportunity to cancel the contract, 3) billing the consumer under an agreement that is no longer in effect, 4) offering free or reduced-priced goods or services that commit the consumer to pay for other goods or services, or 5) misrepresenting that a consumer’s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.

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