Consumer Protection Bills Going into Effect on January 1, 2009

by Zack Kaldveer, Consumer Federation of California, California Progress Report

Every year the Consumer Federation of California monitors, supports, and opposes dozens of bills related to consumer rights. Every year many of these bills are ‘killed’ in the legislature while many others reach the Governor’s desk to either be signed into law or vetoed.

A question many California consumers no doubt must be asking themselves at times is: ‘When will the bills that were signed by the Governor become official state law’?

The general rule is that bills become the law on January 1st of the year after they are signed, but implementation is sometimes delayed as a compromise to move a bill through the legislative process. With that question in mind, we’d like to share some of the most important consumer protection laws ‘ which CFC vigorously supported – going into effect on January 1, 2009.

And of course, have a happy new year!

SB 31 (Simitian) – Prohibiting Reading of RFID without an Individual’s Knowledge and Prior Consent

Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFIDs) are tiny chips with miniature antennae that are embedded within documents or objects for tracking and identification purposes. When a RFID reader emits a radio signal, the devices in the vicinity respond by automatically transmitting their stored information to the reader.

RFID technology has many useful and promising applications, such as inventory tracking and automatic toll-road payment systems. At the same time, however, it can pose serious privacy and security risks. When embedded in identification documents, for example, information can be scanned off a RFID device at a distance and with no indication to the holder of the RFID device that any information has been remotely transmitted or recorded.

Without adequate protections, unauthorized readers can surreptitiously read and skim the personal information stored on a device’such as a birth date, digital picture, or unique identifier number’all without the knowledge of the RFID holder. This skimmed data can be used to facilitate identity theft or to stalk and track the whereabouts of an individual.

In fact, the very nature of RFID, which is a contactless technology, means that when the system has been breached, the device holder won’t know and therefore won’t know to take steps to protect him or herself.

Thanks to SB 31 – ‘skimming’ information from RFID-enabled IDs without the knowledge and consent of the ID holder is now illegal.

AB 1860 (Huffman) ‘ Strengthening Product Safety Laws

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year there are approximately 400 recalls involving toys, clothing, tools, appliances and electronics. These recalls involve millions of products that are on the market or in consumers’ hands. The past two years were particularly troublesome for parents as numerous recalls covered popular children’s toys such as the recall in June 2007 of 1.5 million Thomas the Tank Engine toys because of excessive levels of lead.

Despite recall announcements, many recalled products stay in circulation long after the recalls have been announced. In California, there is no system in place to ensure that recalled products are taken off the market. In 2009, AB 1860 will officially address this problem by requiring the immediate removal of recalled products from the market, prohibiting the sale of recalled products and requiring retailers to post recall notices in a conspicuous fashion.

Retailers will also be required to notify consumers who have purchased recalled products if their contact information is available, and manufacturers must also provide a way for the products to be returned to them.

AB 1860 offers sorely needed consumer protections in light of the fact that most of the recalls initiated by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are voluntary.

AB 1108 (Ma) ‘ Banning Phthalates in Children’s Products

California leads the nation in banning the use of phthalates in products used by babies and children under the age of three. Phthalates are used to soften plastic in toys and items intended for babies to put in their mouths, including pacifiers and teething rings. Phthalates have been linked in scientific studies with testicular injury, liver injury, liver cancer and reproductive harm.

The European Union, Japan, Mexico, Argentina and several other nations have banned phthalates entirely or in products intended for use by babies and young children.

California will now join these nations in banning the use of a toxic chemical that is harmful to our children.

AB 1108 was signed into law in October 2007 with a January 1, 2009 implementation date. Following California’s lead, in August 2008, Congress approved and the Bush Administration signed a national ban on phthalates that will take effect later in 2009.

SB 220 (Corbett) – Bottled and Vended Water Accountability Act

Californians pay a premium (thousands of times more than the cost of tap water) for bottled or vended water because of its perceived purity. Bottled water companies have had no requirement to inform consumers about the source or quality of their products. It is not uncommon for labels to use images that create the impression that the water was drawn from a mountain spring or other remote ‘ and pristine ‘ source. Vended water is dispensed from a supermarket vending machine to refill a water container used for drinking and cooking. In California, most vended water is purchased by consumers who are members of immigrant communities.

We believe – and fought hard to ensure – that Californians have the right to purchase vended water that is safe to drink, and have the right to know what is in the bottled water they purchase. CFC sponsored SB 220, which takes effect January 1, 2009. The new law strengthens health and safety inspection standards for vended water and requires that that water vending machines post key information in Spanish and English.

The new law also requires bottled water to include information on labels regarding the source and quality of the water. Don’t be surprised to read that the top two bottled water brands ‘ Aquafina and Desani ‘ are processed water from a ‘municipal source’ ‘ (we call it tap water) at a mark up that can reach 3000 times the cost of the unprocessed water available at your kitchen sink.

AB 372 (Salas) – Consumer Credit Reports, Security Freezes

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing financial crimes in the U.S. ‘ with nearly 10 million Americans falling victim to it each year. Unfortunately, most consumers are unaware that one of the best ways to protect against identity theft is to place a security freeze on their credit report.

AB 372 – signed by the Governor in July 2008 – reduces fees and shortens the time for consumer security freezes on credit reports. A consumer who has reason to suspect that personal financial information has been breached can place a security freeze that prevents the credit agency from releasing the consumer’s credit report to a third party. A credit freeze can prevent identity theft if is placed promptly.

AB 372 makes it easier and less costly for a consumer to place a security freeze on his credit report. The new law require a credit reporting agency to disclose the right of consumers to place a security freeze on their credit report, reduces from five days to three days the time that a credit agency has to implement the requested freeze, allows consumers to request a freeze by regular written mail instead of certified mail and lowers the fee a credit reporting agency may charge to place a freeze from $12 dollars to $10, or $5 for consumers 65 and older.