Mixed week for consumer rights

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The San Francisco Examiner

This past week has been a critical one for consumer advocates.

Last Thursday, consumer groups and city attorneys from San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles won a promise from Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi that he will rework insurance pricing policy to emphasize driving records, not zip codes and other ancillary factors – as mandated by longstanding, voter-approved law.

Wednesday, the advocates lost a round in an effort to get a “corporate-three-strikes law” on the books, losing support from State Sen. Jackie Speier. The proposal would have banned corporations with three felony convictions within 10 years from doing business with California, and fell under criticism that it would cost the state jobs. Now, why lawmakers would be concerned about lost jobs with a criminal company is beyond us – in fact, the standard would serve as a deterrent instead of penalizing companies now doing business with the state.

Also on Wednesday, the State Senate approved a bill that would allow insurance companies to charge lower rates to people with continuous coverage – in essence allowing rate hikes for disadvantaged people with spotty of no coverage history. That’s the same fight as against zip code pricing, and it’s clear to see that big bucks to state officeholders are pushing this one. Our local reps in the Assembly should help put a damper on it before it reaches the governor’s desk, as it also violates the “driving record” criteria for pricing inherent in state Propostition 103.

Thursday, Speier released the text of her financial privacy legislation that would limit sharing of personal information among banks and other institutions. It’s not too much to ask that companies get express permission before sharing sensitive data like bank account and social security numbers, and Gov. Gray Davis and our legislators need to stand up to donor pressure and push for a truly tough standard on this law. San Francisco already has a financial privacy law on the books, and a weak state law would undercut our local ordinance.

Jamie Court’s new book “Corporateering” critiques bad corporate behavior and provides valuable information like state opt-out policies (the do-not call list for telemarketers, for example, is at: http://nocall.doj.state.ca.us). Some of the consumer protection laws already in place provide financial rewards if corporations violate consumer will.

“Word of mouth is what corporations want most, and what they fear most,” says Court, director of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights. “And we’ve got it.”

For the best quality of life, people have to be willing to demand the best from corporations. In one positive example, Century Theaters this spring took obnoxious TV-style ads off its movie screens (Some have even got free tickets from the theater chain just for thanking them for the policy).

That’s the kind of cultural responsibility that should be rewarded.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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