Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Consumer protection needs upgrading!!

Over the past few years consumer protection in NH has been under attack by the businesses that have the money to buy lobbyists who are paid quite handsomely to defend the businesses who pay them against consumer protection upgrades. This very issue was the focal point of a number of articles, speeches and discussion I have put forth over the years.

A number of years ago Matt and I sponsored a bill to study the consumer protection issues in NH with the hopes of figuring out the best way to enhance the overall effort. What we found was really quite interesting. At the time the NH Consumer Protection Division of the AG’s Office, was handling around 20,000 complaints yearly with 2 and ½ attorneys and a very dedicated skilled group of volunteers. Now one half of an attorney doesn’t mean someone under a certain height that person was shared, or tasked, to support another state effort. Another interesting note was the State has about seven different consumer protection operations going on in the state. For example: we have the AG’s office, the insurance department, the banking department, the public utilities commission and the various board that can discipline, fine or suspend an individual’s license to practice their trade. As a matter of fact that seemed to be one of the major criteria to get out from under the AG’s consumer protection oversight, was whether the licensing board (such as lawyers, doctors etc) had the ability to take such action against its members in response to a complaint.

That was the easy part; the hard part was fighting for legislation that would give you a better chance of being protected when you are unfairly taken advantage of. I don’t remember how many times in response to legislation that Matt and I put in to upgrade the CP effort the lobbyist came in to the Commerce Committee to fight against our efforts. Upgrades to our consumer protection efforts were met with lies, misstatements and don’t forgot attendance at fund raisers. Not many want to talk about it; but, this is the system we have to work in, or, until we get it changed. Don’t look surprised, how do you think some senators in NH raise a $100,000 a year or more in fundraising? I think we can all agree that the money goes to those who are for sale; I’ve seen enough of that to turn my stomach.

We were not the most popular amongst the special interest groups and my stock response to some of the outrageous testimony as to why we shouldn’t upgrade the effort was, “go tell your clients if they didn’t screw the consumers they needn’t worry about this”. Once or twice I might have been counseled on my straight forward, no games played style; but, oh well life is tough and our constituents got, and rightly so, a full day’s pay for the $87 a year(after taxes) that we were getting paid.

One of the last changes we tried was to get a couple more staff to increase the AG’s ability to investigate and deal with these complaints, that effort was shot down and the lobbyists reasoning was if we had more staff they would do more cases. In the insurance department we did get an upgrade in that would fine insurance companies and adjusters who purposely low balled your claim in order to give you a reduced pay out on your policy.

No matter what the issue it is not going to be resolved over night. The issue has to be investigated, the perpetrator has to be contacted, time frames for a response, negotiations bond agencies notified, information on what is owed and to whom, pay out time if the perpetrator is determined to be at fault and court time if they refuse to cooperate in fixing the problem. All the time, your roof might be leaking, your oil tank is empty etc. But don’t worry, our locally elected officials are “keeping an eye on the situation”, and it is an election year, they have to act concerned and get their pictures in the papers to look good and make you think they right out their fighting for your rights while some are sending out fundraising letters to the special interests that could care less about you.

Lee Quandt is a former state rep serving on the Commerce Committee that dealt with Insurance and Business legislation.

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