Dec 21, 2009

Whitmer and House Democrats push for restoring consumer protection

LANSING – Michigan consumers could again enjoy some basic protections from predatory businesses that it once enjoyed a decade ago.

The House Democrats introduced legislation last week that would amend the Michigan Consumer Protection Act to restore its original intent to protect Michigan consumers and properly hold deceitful businesses accountable for their practices. A 1999 Supreme Court ruling from the GOP-controlled court essentially gutted the law, and since then Michigan has been a buyer beware state. The original Michigan Consumer Protection Act was approved with bipartisan support in 1976, making it a leader in consumer protection.

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, has been a long-time proponent of consumer protection, and she joined House Democrats at their press conference in support of the legislation. She sponsored the same measure in the Senate, Senate Bill 573, but it has been stalled in the Senate for some time. She is hoping the House action will get the ball rolling and break the log jam like it did for the workplace smoking ban.

Whitmer said with the economy as it is, it is important to protect residents' pocketbooks with these common sense reforms.

“During these difficult times the last thing Michigan consumers need is to be taken advantage of by a dishonest business,” she said. “It’s time that we stand up for our citizens and reject the Supreme Court’s partisan rulings that allow companies to rip off the hardworking people and honest businesses of this state.”

Michigan was once a leader in consumer protection, and the plan would simply restore the Michigan Consumer Protection Act to what is was 33 years ago. It would apply to all businesses and industries it originally covered – giving consumers and authority’s ways to hold companies that commit fraud accountable. It would also require companies that engage in dishonest business practices to pay back money to consumers and face stiff fines of up to $25,000 for fraudulent practices.

Obviously, the Republicans objected, and they went so far as to accuse Whitmer of campaigning for Michigan Attorney General by appearing at the press conference. Whitmer announced earlier this month that she is seeking the Democratic nomination for AG, but she introduced SB 573 back in May.

“We believe it's really not appropriate for her to be trying to run her attorney general campaign from the Senate floor," said John Truscott, spokesperson for Mr. Bishop's attorney general campaign, in subscription only Gongwer. "Senator Bishop will not be bullied into taking up legislation that is basically a full employment act for trial lawyers."

Truscott, the former mouthpiece for former Gov. John Engler and the Bush/Cheney campaign in Michigan, trotted out the standard GOP excuse for stalling bills that do not benefit corporations: “There are far more important issues the Legislature is dealing with," he said.

But a former GOP candidate for AG and a member of the Senate Republican caucus went to Whitmer’s defense.

“Everything Mike Bishop has done is through the prism of running for Attorney General," said Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, in subscription only MIRS. "I actually think that consumer protection is an important concept."

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