Our values: Justice, equal justice, civil justice, equal opportunity, fairness, fair rules, fair markets, level playing field, security, safety
Our vision: We need a marketplace that is fair to everyone. That requires fundamental rules to ensure consumer products are safe and the terms of sales and investments are open and honest. In four ways, we need to guarantee that everyone plays by the same fair rules by: (1) ensuring that food is safe, drugs are pure, and products are free from dangerous defects; (2) requiring that financial institutions not cheat their customers, and further, that their services provide a legitimate benefit to society; (3) compelling all businesses to follow basic rules of economic decency; and (4) guaranteeing justice for average Americans and small businesses in civil litigation.
The federal government created consumer product safety law piecemeal, beginning with minimum standards for flammable fabrics in the 1950s. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, authorized in 1972, provides the most protection on the federal level, but it’s still not enough. Thus, states also provide a layer of protection, such as California’s Safe Cosmetics Act, Washington’s Children’s Safe Products Act, bans on toxic chemicals in children’s products, restrictions on genetically engineered foods, and numerous state regulations about the handling and preparation of food.
The Great Recession of 2007-09 reminded Americans that our financial system is unstable, unfair, and often provides no real benefit to society. Both states and localities have responded with a variety of protections: limiting predatory mortgage lending and payday lending; stopping unnecessary property foreclosures and unfair debt collection practices; and controlling the marketing of credit cards, debit cards, and pre-paid cards.
Markets benefit society only when the same rules are fairly applied and vigorously enforced on everyone. States, cities and counties play a big role in that, prohibiting false advertising and often providing an agency that investigates and mediates complaints. States enforce contracts, of course, but they also may add special protections against identity theft and violations of privacy.
There has been a decades-long attack on the rights of average Americans to sue businesses for wrongdoing. Called “tort reform,” this effort isn’t “reform” at all; it is a cruel shifting of costs from rich companies that caused injuries to the unfortunate people who were injured. States can push back and make their courts fairer by discouraging contract clauses that require forced arbitration or waivers of injunctive relief, and by providing punitive damages and class action relief through legislation that creates minimum standards of contract fairness.
FEATURED POLICIES FOR 2018
The debt collection business is booming, but many collection company practices are questionable. “Zombie debt” occurs when collection agencies buy expired debt from the original vendor or credit card company for pennies on the dollar. Then they try to trick consumers who do not understand the debt is expired into paying or “acknowledging” the debt, thereby restarting the statute of limitations that barred the original vendor from collecting. Some jurisdictions, like Washington, have passed laws against zombie debt collection practices.
Corporations possess a tremendous amount of personal information about customers and potential customers. When these companies are hacked, individuals may have their money, credit and identities stolen. Massive data breaches have become painfully common, from Equifax and Target to Yahoo and Sony. To ensure the security of customer records, the Data Privacy Protection Act requires that any business that handles or stores the personal information of any resident of the state must meet certain security standards to protect this information.
In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission established rules to limit how Internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, can use a customer’s personal information. For sensitive data, ISPs needed active permission from the customer before using geographic location, children’s information, health information, financial information, Social Security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history, or the content of a customer’s communications. For less-sensitive personal data, ISPs needed to allow customers to opt-out. But in early 2017, Congress and the President overturned those FCC rules. States can protect their own residents with the Internet Privacy Protection Act, which forbids ISPs from using or selling sensitive personal information without consent.
Because of climate change, extreme weather events have become common. Any part of the country may see the next emergency. Sadly, it is not unusual for sellers to try to make windfall profits during hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and floods, and most states do not have an effective law to protect consumers. The Protection from Price Gouging During Emergencies Act deters price gouging by placing a percentage limit on the amount that certain products and services can increase in price.
Prepaid debit cards
Every year, Americans spend more than $100 billion on prepaid gift cards for retail stores, restaurants and “universal” prepaid debt cards like Visa. The federal Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act) provides a number of important consumer protections. But many states have adopted prepaid card protections that go beyond the federal law to: ban expiration dates, prohibit service fees, and/or require that customers can get cash when a card’s value falls to less than $5 or $10.
Limiting waivers in form contracts
Hidden in the fine print of many form contracts are provisions that unfairly benefit the vendor when the customer has a valid complaint about the product or service bought. For example, many such contracts force individuals to mandatory arbitration, a system that is stacked in favor of the defendant. States can ban the waiver of rights in certain cases or adopt a sunshine law like California’s disclosure of arbitration outcomes.
Many cosmetics contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals, and more than 20,000 cosmetic products contain ingredients which have never been tested for safety by any publicly-accountable institution. The Safe Cosmetics Act, enacted by California in 2005, requires disclosure of the ingredients in cosmetics, investigation into toxicity, notification to the public, and reports to the state occupational safety authorities when the health of beauty care workers may be at risk.