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June 2013

Wisconsin Legislature Considers
Bills Impacting Consumers

The Wisconsin Legislature is considering several bills impacting consumers.  The first are Senate Bill 97 sponsored by Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R–River Falls) and Assembly Bill 96 sponsored by Rep. Andre Jacque (R–DePere). These bills would extend the state’s telemarketer “do-not-call” protections by allowing consumers to permanently remain on the “do-not-call” list rather than requiring consumers to sign up every two years. In addition, the bills would ban political candidates and advocacy groups from making those very annoying pre-recorded political robo-calls to those on the list. This consumer legislation is supported by Republican and Democratic legislators.

The second bill is more controversial. Governor Scott Walker is proposing in his budget to ease regulations on “rent-to-own” stores by allowing them to sell high-cost financing plans for appliances, televisions, and furniture to customers without disclosing the applicable interest rate. In addition, the budget provision would cap the penalty payments customers could be awarded if they successfully sue rent-to-own stores for misrepresentations.

To date, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has kept this provision in the budget bill, even though it is a policy rather than budget item and prior Joint Finance Committees have typically removed policy items from the budget bill. The governor’s proposal is being criticized by members of his own party, including Senator Glenn Grothman (R–West Bend), who argues the provision is harmful to the poor and would “bleed millions of dollars each year from our most vulnerable citizens.” In addition, Senate President Mike Ellis (R–Neenah) and Senator Rob Cowles (R–Allouez) are also critical, with Senator Cowles stating, “I think that whole industry is preying on poor people, absolutely, and we need not facilitate that."

A third proposal seeks to change landlord-tenant regulations and is sponsored by Rep. Duey Stroebel (R–Saukville). Stroebel’s bill, in part, changes how evictions and the disposal of tenant property are handled by giving the landlord the choice to remove tenant property or to have it done by the sheriff. Current law requires landlords to state up front in the lease agreements how they would handle tenants’ property in evictions. Bill opponents argue it and other provisions would set aside long-standing tenant protections and could substantially increase the potential for violent arguments between landlords and tenants. Supporters say the bill would better balance landlord and tenant rights.

You can make your views on these bills known to your legislator by going to: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/Pages/waml.aspx.


A Second Bangladesh Tragedy Impacts American Consumers

My January “Consumer Checkpoint” column focused on the tragic Bangladesh garment factory fire that killed 121 workers and inured hundreds of others. Responding to the tragedy, U.S. labor officials called for worker protections in a country that produces much of our clothing. Unfortunately, this deadly fire was followed by an even greater tragedy on April 24 when 1,127 died in the collapse of yet another Bangladesh garment factory. Large cracks were discovered in the building’s support columns the day before and this caused several businesses in the building to immediately close. However, the garment factory owner and his supervisors ordered workers to return to work because the company was behind in filling orders. Following the collapse, the factory owner was arrested as he attempted to flee the country. New worker-safety protections tragically came too late for these most recent victims. Will safety precautions be put in place fast enough to prevent the next tragedy?

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