23 June 04 The US-European consumer coalition, the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), has decided to boycott this weekend's US-European Union Trade Summit in Ireland because the governments are violating their own rules and granting business groups but not consumer groups a meeting with the Presidents. TACD would have met with trade officials only. WE emphatically reject second-class status. USPIRG's Ed Mierzwinski and Felix Cohen of Consumentenbond (the Dutch Consumers Association) had planned on presenting TACD's summit paper and new TACD papers on two key trade issues: airline passenger name records and toxic chemical regulation. The US chemical industry, as well as its European counterparts, have sought to weaken the European REACH proposals on toxic chemical regulation. While REACH needs improvement, it is based on the Precautionary Principle and much better than the weak US chemical policies championed by the Chemical Manufacturers Association (oops, they're kindler and gentler now because they changed their name a few years back to the American Chemistry Council). Here's the state PIRG page on our toxic chemical campaigns. Here's our latest reports including our recent research paper on toxic flame retardants. We're extremely disappointed in both governments for their failure to provide parity to members of civil society in important trade matters. Decisions made at the trade summit, at the WTO and in other fora affect consumer and environmental and worker protection as much as if not more than the self-interests of the multi-national companies President Bush and his counterparts, the EU President and Irish President, have found the time to meet with. Unfortunately, the US government platform on trade has long promoted these business interests over those of workers, consumers and the enviroment. Increasingly, the fights we have over state-federal preemption are being replicated at the international level, where industry seeks "harmonization" of the weakest possible consumer and environmental laws and preemption of stronger national laws as alleged trade barriers. Here's a speech on the GATS agreement on trade in services, which Ed Mierzwinski gave at a 2001 TACD meeting, as the TACD rebuttal to the plenary statement by the EU's Trade Commissioner, Ambassador Pascal Lamy.
4 June 2004 House
and Senate Hammer OCC For Failure To Prevent Potential Terrorist Money-Laundering...That's
The Same Agency That Claims It Knows Best On All Regulation of All Matters
At hearings Wednesday in the House Financial
Services Committee and Thursday in the Senate
Banking Committee, officials of the nation's chief national bank regulator,
the OCC, took a
bi-partisan pummeling for ignoring money laundering violations for six
years at the politically-connected Riggs Bank of DC. Average bank customers
can only make cash withdrawals of $9,999 without running afoul of the
money laundering laws-- why did the OCC let Riggs let well-connected foreign
diplomats routinely make up to one million dollar cash withdrawals? At
Thursday's hearing Comptroller John D. Hawke Jr. admitted a "failure
of supervision." Understatement of the year-- but then again, supervision
has never the goal at OCC -- it's been more interested in empire-building.
Following the hearing, Hawke admitted to the Washington Post something
he apparently never mentioned in the hearings, something which he'd known
for at least a "few weeks" -- that the OCC's former chief examiner
for Riggs had gone to work at the bank just two weeks after he'd left
a 34-year career at the OCC. Shocking, that the boss'd only known that
for a few weeks-- how long had the agency known without coming forward?
is outlined in the Washington Post, where reporter Kathleen Day quotes
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley: "When the watchdogs punch out,
cash in and step through the revolving door, oversight suffers. Using
almost all carrots and no sticks doesn't seem to be working to keep financial
institutions in line, especially for the war on terrorism financing."
We would add-- using all federal carrots and taking away the state regulator
sticks doesn't work for consumer protection, either, where banks are running
rampant over consumers with unfair predatory lending, credit card and
overdraft practices. At the House Riggs hearing Wednesday, Investigations
Subcommittee Chair Sue Kelly (R-NY) and Ranking Democrat Luis Guiterrez
(D-IL) grilled the OCC's Michael Stepano on Riggs and on the OCC's failure
to adequately enforce consumer laws. Kelly on the OCC
and Bank Secrecy Act enforcement: "We find a regulator with credibility
so diminished that Riggs shamelessly continued to violate the Bank Secrecy
Act even after a full-time OCC examiner was placed on the banks
premises following last summers consent order." The OCC continues
to take heat on the hill for its outrageous rules issued in January preempting
all state legislative and enforcement authority over national banks and
even their operating subsidiaries, as detailed at PIRG's
OCC Watch site. OCC's arrogant style in the Riggs case -- let the
banks do what they want, is similar to its role on state enforcement of
consumer protection laws-- get rid of the state laws, so the banks can
do what they want.
25 May 2004 Rent-to-own industry making election year play to legalize unfair practices federally The rent to own industry is back. It's failed again in efforts to repeal Wisconsin's tough law; it's in court again in New Jersey; and, so, it's asking Congress for protection. Once again, it is pouring money into Congress and hoping to pass a federal safe harbor law that, if enacted, would insulate and immunize it from strong consumer protection laws in New Jersey, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Vermont. Of course, that leaves nothing protecting consumers, since the industry's model law is designed to eliminate, not create, consumer protections. This week it was also reported that one of the RTO industry's two biggest players, Rent-A-Center, has placed former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) on its board; that's not surprising, as Armey was the industry's chief cheerleader and patron as a Representative. Find out more here.
2 May 2004 Over 2,000 U.S. PIRG activists (many activist comments are also posted separately at FTC site) joined leading consumer groups in filing comments to the Federal Trade Commission urging it to implement Congressionally mandated free credit reports more quickly and with greater privacy protections. U.S. PIRG, in addition to preparing comments with a large coalition of consumer groups and collecting e-mail letters from over 2000 citizens, also joined comments by the National Council of La Raza and Consumers Union urging that the FTC require credit bureaus to establish an English and Spanish shared "central source" website and English and Spanish shared telephone number for consumers to obtain their reports. The requirement that credit bureaus provide credit reports for free was one of the few bright spots in the 2003 enactment of major legislation, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (PIRG's FACTA archive), which permanently restricted state authority to enact many credit reporting and financial privacy laws. The law's free report requirement requires the Big 3 national bureaus to set up a central system (website and phone and mail) for consumers to request each of their free reports. Following a lot of whining by the credit bureaus, Congress allowed the FTC to consider slowing the implementation of the law to prevent overloads. Consequently, as proposed, the FTC rule would provide free reports in 4 "staggered" quarterly rollouts, first to to the West Coast on 1 December 2004, but not to the East Coast until 1 September 2005. We also argued that the credit bureaus, unless prevented from doing so, would collect too much confidential information and also would attempt to use deceptive advertising to upsell consumers seeking to take advantage of their federally-mandated right to free reports. The bureaus would try to coerce them into purchasing over-priced credit monitoring and identity theft services. The FTC must issue the rule by 4 June 2004.
Update 3 May 2004 Sallie Mae may finally be complying with its promise to the Senate that it would accurately report student loan payments to all credit bureaus. More news as we get it. 10 March 04 Sallie Mae, Still Flunking Out What if your good name were filched, to use Shakespeare's term, not by a punk identity thief but by a powerful corporation trying to prevent you from taking advantage of the best refinancing deals available to you and, in the process, preventing you from shopping around for good credit by damaging your credit score? What if that powerful corporation, Sallie Mae, the student loan servicing behemoth, also ignored promises it made to the US Senate in November to stop this tawdry practice? That's what the Washington Post's Michelle Singletary just reported on 29 February. Fortunately, the Senators watchdogging this issue, Banking Chairman Shelby (AL) and Sens. Durbin (IL), Sarbanes (MD) and Kohl (WI) are firing back and investigating. Here's the Sallie Scam: our voluntary credit reporting system relies on everyone participating because accurate credit reports benefit everyone, credit sellers (companies) and credit seekers (consumers) alike. Your credit report is used to create your credit score, used in credit decision-making. Your timely payments boost your score, your late payments make you a higher risk. But Sallie Mae, a politically powerful company that got fat and rich as a so-called Government Sponsored Enterprise although it is now in the process of "privatizing," has chosen to game the credit reporting system, by only reporting your negative history, not your positive history, to two of the three national credit bureaus. (It's required by law to report federally-guaranteed student loan information to at least one bureau.) Sallie Mae claims it is trying to prevent other companies from legally using credit bureau files to make credit offers to its customers. But its actions also prevent its customers -- especially younger recent graduates who may not have a lot of information on their credit report to generate a good score anyway -- from taking advantage of their on-time student loan payments to apply for mortgages or credit cards. Keeping a captive customer base of consumers who are prevented from showing their good name to others is a disgraceful racket that Sallie's involved in. Sallie's shameful delays hurt young consumers and should be stopped. We're watching reauthorization of the Higher Education Act closely, and we fully expect a play by Sallie to try to convince Congress to make it harder for students and graduates to consolidate their loans at low fixed rates. If you're a company trying to find more information about how to game or deflate credit scores to keep your customers captive, see U.S. PIRG's Ed Mierzwinski's testimony before the Senate and search on the bank "Capital One."
2-3 March 04 Opponents of media concentration (background here) including PennPIRG rallied in Philadelphia this week while Disney held its shareholders meeting under the shadow of a possible takeover of the venerable empire by the nation's largest cable company, the giant Comcast, which controls 30% of all homes served by cable nationwide. Disney also owns the ABC network and the powerful ESPN channels. "We need media diversity, not media monopolies. This merger of two corporate giants such as Comcast and Disney is bad for consumers, democracy, workers, art and culture. That's why Congress should step in to reverse the trend of increased media consolidation," said Beth McConnell, director of PennPIRG, at a news conference where groups argued that the takeover or merger would threaten localism, diversity and democracy. Here is a media release from the group, also including the Center for Digital Democracy, Media Tank, the Communications Workers of America, Prometheus Radio Project (plaintiffs in the major case seeking to overturn the FCC rules), Common Cause and others. PIRG's recent white paper on "The Failure of Cable Deregulation" describes the threat to consumers posed by more powerful cable monopolies and the threat those cable monopolies pose to the Internet. At the same time as the Disney/Comcast events are occurring, a microcosm of the media concentration battle is also playing out in Philadelphia, where the radio giant RadioOne is using FCC rules allowing the big to trump the small to take over 107.9 FM, the frequency long used by the suburban Philadelphia Haverford High School radio station WHHS, the nation's longest running, since 1949, high school radio station.
3 May 2004 The NY Times reported today that Ian Malone, a brave and cheerful victim of medical malpractice during birth -- whose family also had to fight unfair practices by the Aetna HMO which then sought to deny him needed nursing coverage -- died in his sleep Saturday. Ian was 4. Ian's parents, Dylan and Christine, have worked to ensure that our medical malpractice system deters negligence and compensates victims. 7 April 2004 Proponents of limiting the rights of victims of medical malpractice failed again to muster enough votes to consider a new version of their legislation, S 2207, which was defeated again 49-48 (60 votes needed, Pro-Consumer Vote = NAY) on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) insists he will continue to bring similar bills to limit victims' rights up on the floor very six weeks. 24 Feb 04 Caps on malpractice claims by mothers and babies defeated (Pro-consumer vote = NAY, 60 votes needed to proceed) on Senate floor: "I'm not here for pity, I'm here for justice." Those were the words of New Jersey resident Justin Mattes, 25 years old, on Capitol Hill today. Justin continued, I am a victim of medical malpractice. I have cerebral palsy because my mother's obstetrician committed medical malpractice in the way he handled my mother's delivery when I was born. A $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages would take away the only opportunity a person like me, who has suffered a permanent disability because of a doctor's medical malpractice, has to live with some amount of independence and to enjoy some of the normal dignities of life." Justin and the mothers and fathers of other victims spoke at an empowering news conference organized by the Center for Justice and Democracy on the day the Senate considered S 2061, a draconian, discriminatory and probably unconstitutional proposal that would, among other things, set a $250,000 limit on compensation for women and their babies who have suffered brain damage, disfigurement, mutilation, blindness and other non-economic injuries caused by medical malpractice at birth. Following the news conference the group, including children, walked the halls of the Senate to lobby their Senators. You can read their stories here at CJ&D. Here is the coalition letter opposing the bill. More
21 April 04 Today, as expected, the Supreme Court overturned the 6th Circuit in Household Credit Services vs Pfennig, holding that bank regulators do have the authority to modify the Truth In Lending Act. Nevertheless, the review of the case raised important questions about deceptive credit card company practices. 23 Feb 04 Supreme Court Hears Important Credit Card Disclosure Case. Today the Supreme Court heard oral argument in an important case, Household Credit Services and MBNA vs. Pfennig, that could force regulators and Congress to put the truth back in the Truth In Lending Act. Although credit cards have been around for 50 years, only over the past 25 years has credit card debt grown almost exponentially to a staggering $650 billion dollars. While some consumers have the financial wherewithal to use credit cards for convenience, more than half of Americans hold credit card debt averaging $10-12,000 on all their cards. The big credit card banks have relied on vague, inadequate credit card disclosure rules and pliant regulators like the Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) to bury consumers under this growing mountain of credit card debt without telling the truth about its impact. They hype the supposed benefits of "minimum payments" which leave consumers running on a debt treadmill and never paying down their debts. More recently, they realized they can earn even more income by charging unreasonable over-the-limit and late fees. Now, although our attempt to improve disclosure of the minimum payment scam by state action has been preempted by the OCC and our attempts to improve them in Congress have fallen on deaf ears, the Court may provide a solution, if it upholds the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the bank violated the Truth In Lending Act. Consumer attorney Sylvia Goldsmith of Sandusky, Ohio, a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, brought the case on behalf of Sharon Pfennig, a consumer who was charged an over-the-limit fee of $29 and then improperly charged interest on top of the fee. The banks claim that the regulators allow the practice, which may or may not be true, but they shouldn't, since it violates the Truth In Lending Act, which s a law intended as a remedial statute to protect consumers, not banks. For more information about "deflating your rate" and avoiding tawdry credit card company practices, see the PIRG website Truthaboutcredit.org. Congress doesn't often hold hearings that might offend these large campaign contributors, but testimony by PIRG's Ed Mierzwinski in 2001 outlines credit card company tricks in detail. Last week, on February 19th, MaryPIRG and the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition released Graduating Into Debt: Credit Card Marketing on Maryland College Campuses. That report documents how the credit card industry tries to hook young people on their overpriced debt, and how many colleges allow the credit card companies to peddle their wares on campus, how other credit card company contractors may do so even where prohibited, and how colleges and their alumni associations are compensated by the industry.
March 04 Spring Broke? How to Avoid a Spring Break Ripoff 2004: Report by MASSPIRG Student Chapters-- Highlight: "Hidden fees increase the average cost of a spring break trip by over 39% above the advertised price." 2001 report.
18 Feb 04 State PIRGs support Congressional proposals that would allow the Medicare program to negotiate fairer drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (S 1) signed into law by President Bush in December of last year wrongly prohibits administrators of the program from entering into voluntary negotiations with drug companies to achieve fairer prices. This wrong-headed law adversely impacts state PIRG-backed prescription drug purchasing buying pools. These buying pools have the effect of passing along lower state-negotiated prices to consumers that would otherwise pay the highest prices, without a cost to taxpayers. As thousands of senior citizens forgo their benefits in Medicaid in favor of the new Medicare benefit, the negotiating power of this federal program will be severely diminished. As a result, prices paid by the state Medicaid programs will increase, causing harm to those individuals that remain in the programs and rely upon their benefits. See CALPIRG's prescription drug price platform here. Watch for additional information on the campaign to fix the Medicare law.
4 Feb 04 LANSING, MIA new
report released today by PIRGIM found that law enforcement officers across
Michigan agree that identity theft is on the rise and offered recommendations
to consumers, companies and policymakers who want to stop identity theft.
The Michigan Senate recently passed legislation to help slow identity
theft, which is now before the state house. The report, entitled "Policing
Privacy: Michigan Law Enforcement Officers On the Challenges of Tackling
Identity Theft," summarizes interviews PIRGIM held in September
2003 with Michigan detectives and other law enforcement officers who work
specifically on identity theft cases. PIRG
identity theft and credit reporting pages.
29 Jan 04 According to a new CALPIRG report, Rip-off 101, students will spend an average of $898 per year on textbooks in 2003-04, based on surveys of University of California (UC) students in the fall of 2003. This represents almost 20 percent of the average tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year colleges nationwide. In contrast, a 1997 UC survey found that students spent an average of $642 on textbooks in 1996-97. The report documents other textbook company practices and issues a call for reform.
7 Jan 04 Consumer group summary of new FCRA amendments prepared by U.S. PIRG, Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America. 4 DEC 03 PIRG statement on President's signing of identity theft law. Excerpt: "Large parts of our long-sought platform to protect identity theft victims and improve credit report accuracy are in this law and we commend those members who worked to enact them. We are disappointed that we could not support the final bill because the permanent extension and expansion of unfair limits on the longstanding right of the states to pass stronger laws means that if the job Congress did isn't good enough, it's doubtful Congress will ever come back to help victims again. While the President often says he is for state's rights, his Administration's record--on privacy, on predatory lending and on environmental protection-- more and more shows a disdain for state authority and a favoritism toward industry-backed usurpation of the right of the states to protect consumers and the environment." Recent op-edit by U.S. PIRG executive director Gene Karpinski, "The States' Rights Principle."
30 Dec 03 On December 30, Governor George Pataki approved NYPIRG-backed regulations requiring fire-safe (self-extinguishing) cigarettes.
MORE ARCHIVES 12 Aug 03 Failure of Cable Television Regulation. U.S. PIRG's new report and press release documenting the failure of cable deregulation in 1996 and offering a blueprint for reform. Here's a full size copy of the cover.
27 May 03 CALPIRG, U.S. PIRG, Consumers Union, AARP, others file friend of the court brief in 9th Circuit supporting appeal of state of California seeking reinstatement of credit card law requiring a disclosure explaining how months to pay off card if only minimum payment made. 23 December 02-- Credit card debt warnings rejected by federal judge. Link to decision. In October, CALPIRG, USPIRG, Consumers Union, AARP and other leading consumer groups had filed a legal brief in lower court. More on "months to pay" problem at PIRG's Truthaboutcredit site and more on preemption of state consumer laws at PIRG's OCC Watch pages.
4 March 03 Broad coalition against bankruptcy bill sends new letter and news release opposing new 2003 version of one-sided industry-backed bill (HR 975) that would rollback consumer rights in bankruptcy to Congressional leadership.
13 Feb 03 PIRG news release condemns Ney (R-OH) bill introduced today. Industry backed bill is designed to override new PIRG-backed anti-predatory mortgage lending laws in New York, Georgia, North Carolina and similar laws in other states. Bill is opposed by broad coalition of consumer, civil rights and minority groups and unions (letter from groups).
17 Oct 02 Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) introduces tough PIRG-backed legislation, S 3143, establishing citizen watchdog group called a "Consumer and Shareholder Protection Association" to guarantee no more Enrons. Group modeled after successful Illinois Citizen Utility Board. S. 3143 turned out to be the last bill introduced by the late consumer and citizen champion.
Rent To Own archive: PIRG opposes Industry-Supported Rent-to-own Bills: 25 May 2004 Consumer, civil rights and labor groups send letters to Congress detailing continued opposition to identical industry-backed rent-to-own industry protection bills: Letter on S. 884 (Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA) and Letter on HR 996 (Walter Jones, R-NC). PIRG continues to oppose the 108th Congress versions of previous RTO bills. All previous information in this archive describing previous versions of these bills and why these bills are anti-consumer, anti-states' rights and are intended solely to serve as safe harbors for the predatory practices of a predatory industry are still valid. See September 02 press release on House vote 215-201 (NOE is the PRO-CONSUMER VOTE) to immunize rent to own industry from stronger state laws. Sen. Mary Landrieu and 8 others have introduced a Senate companion, S. 2947 (we oppose it). 2002 PRESS BACKGROUNDER ON THE RTO Industry's $3.9 million campaign to enact unfair law. Letter from 12 national consumer/labor groups to House and letter from state and local consumer/justice groups to House. The full Financial Services Committee passed HR 1701 on 27 June 02. See also: 27 Nov 01, Letter from 9 groups in opposition to rent to own bill approved in House Banking subcommittee 28 Nov 01. On 6 September, (see PIRG news release) the House Financial Institutions Subcommittee had begun, but could not finish, voting on the controversial bill. Rent-to-own customers would lose important legal protections if an industry-backed bill, HR 1701, were enacted. See a letter to committee members from 6 groups, including UAW, urging support instead for the pro-consumer alternative HR 2498 (Waters-D-CA and 11 others.). 52 state (and territorial) Attorneys General oppose the bill. In August 2001, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs found Rent-A-Center, one of the nation's largest rent-to-own companies and a leading proponent of the anti-consumer legislation, guilty of 310 violations of law. Also, see the testimony of the National Consumer Law Center on behalf of NCLC, U.S. PIRG, Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union in a House Financial Services Committee hearing. New Jersey PIRG has long led the fight to prevent industry from overturning their tough law, so now the industry has come to Washington to attempt to over-ride it. Here's our 12 July press release and a link to a 1997 PIRG national survey on rent-to-own. New Jersey Consumers League has an excellent HR 1701 Fact sheet. Play (or download) NJCL's rent-to-own rap: 700 k MP3 file. In September, Wisconsin governor Scott McCallum vetoed a special interest rent-to-own provision attached to that state's budget by industry lobbyists. Letter to WI Governor from national groups. Updated 10 Sept 01
Class Action archive 25 May 04 Class action unfairness: Broad coalition of 80 consumer, civil rights, environmental, women's groups opposes unfair class action bill, S 274/S 1751, designed solely to protect corporate wrongdoers from responsibility for their actions. The bill is opposed as well by the Judicial Conference of the United States (the association of federal judges chaired by Chief Justice Rehnquist). The bill was originally introduced as S 274, then repackaged as S 1751 and stopped in October on the Senate floor. Now an unacceptable rewrite of S 1751 is expected to come to the floor this spring as an amendment to S 274. 9 April 03 Consumer, environmental and anti-tobacco groups oppose so-called "Class Action Reform" bill, S 274 and in particular oppose weak effort by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to "improve" the defective bill, which should instead be opposed. Bill would weaken rights of consumers in class actions to seek redress. Committee amended bill so it no longer attacked lawsuits on behalf of other groups of consumers, but the bill is still unacceptable. Feinstein amendment won't help. Bill approved in Senate Judiciary 12 April.
Medical Malpractice archive 24 Feb 04 Caps on malpractice claims by mothers and babies defeated (Pro-consumer vote = NOE, 60 votes needed to proceed) on Senate floor. "I'm not here for pity, I'm here for justice." Those were the words of New Jersey resident Justin Mattes, 25 years old, on Capitol Hill today. Justin continued, I am a victim of medical malpractice. I have cerebral palsy because my mother's obstetrician committed medical malpractice in the way he handled my mother's delivery when I was born. A $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages would take away the only opportunity a person like me, who has suffered a permanent disability because of a doctor's medical malpractice, has to live with some amount of independence and to enjoy some of the normal dignities of life." Justin and the mothers and fathers of other victims spoke at an empowering news conference organized by the Center for Justice and Democracy on the day the Senate considered S 2061, a draconian, discriminatory and probably unconstitutional proposal that would, among other things, set a $250,000 limit on compensation for women and their babies who have suffered brain damage, disfigurement, mutilation, blindness and other non-economic injuries caused by medical malpractice at birth. Following the news conference the group, including children, walked the halls of the Senate to lobby their Senators. 23 Feb 04 Coalition of consumer, women's, justice groups sends letter to Senators urging opposition to bill (vote expected 24 Feb 04) to restrict medical malpractice damage claims by women and babies injured by malpractice related to obstetrical and gynecological care. This proposal, S. 2061 (Gregg-R-NH, Ensign-R-NV) discriminates against women and infants by restricting their right to hold physicians, hospitals, insurance companies, HMOs, and even drug and medical device manufacturers accountable for injuries resulting from the provision of obstetrical and gynecological care. The bill does not guarantee that insurance is available or affordable for doctors. It also does nothing to provide health insurance for uninsured women. Insurance reform is the real solution; tort reform would only hurt mothers and babies with the most serious injuries. 9 April 03 Consumer, environmental and anti-tobacco groups oppose so-called "Class Action Reform" bill, S 274 and in particular oppose weak effort by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to "improve" the defective bill, which should instead be opposed. 11 March 03 PIRG, other groups oppose so-called medical malpractice reform bill, HR 5, which would eviscerate rights of victims of medical malpractice, drug company mistakes and hospital malpractice. Bill would impose especially harsh restrictions on women and children who are maimed, disfigured or lose childbearing ability by unjustly capping non-economic damages at only $250,000. Since children and women (and others) without salaried jobs do not have significant economic damages (loss of potential income), non-economic damages form a crucial form of compensation when they are severely injured. Bad bill narrowly passes House 229-196 on 13 March-- NOE is pro-consumer, pro-victim vote. Bill fails to reform insurance industry or reduce medical errors. See NJPIRG release for more information on problems with insurance industry-backed national campaign to eviscerate consumer legal rights. 26 September 03 Letter from USPIRG opposing HR 4600 -- cynically named Health Act-- passed narrowly, 217-203 (NOE is pro-consumer vote) on the House floor on 26 September. Letter from US PIRG opposing similar Sen. McConnell (R-KY) amendment. These bills eviscerate consumer rights against dangerous doctors, dangerous HMOs and hospitals, dangerous drug companies and dangerous medical device companies and cap damages in medical malpractice cases and otherwise restrict consumer legal rights. McConnell amendment tabled (Defeated) 57-42. Pro-consumer vote = YES. 30 July 02 (Back to TOP)
Bankruptcy Archive 4 March 03 Broad coalition against bankruptcy bill sends new letter and news release opposing new 2003 version of one-sided industry-backed bill (HR 975) that would rollback consumer rights in bankruptcy to Congressional leadership. See PIRG's analysis why the bankruptcy bill is unfair to consumers. Why would Congress move from anti-Enron corporate responsibility legislation to supporting the irresponsible credit card industry, under fire in the courts and from regulators? The bankruptcy bill is nothing than a payoff to its chief cheerleaders and benefactors -- the credit card industry and your "friendly" local credit union -- -- for their massive campaign contributions. 14 Nov 02 -- House kills bad bankruptcy bill opposed by conservatives and consumer/labor/women's/civil rights coalition: The final vote was 172-243 (Pro-Consumer vote NOE) after House leadership gave up and released members to vote against the bill after it had been tied 204-204. After this, the House leadership did pass a substitute bill (PRO-CONSUMER VOTE STILL NOE) that deleted language that conservatives had opposed regarding the dischargability of fines incurred in abortion protests, but the Senate did not take that alternate bill up, killing the bill for 2002. (9/02) (28 Feb 01. See consumer group letter supporting Wellstone amendment, to prohibit recovery of predatory loans (e.g. payday loans) at interest rates exceeding 100% per year in bankruptcy proceedings. All pro-consumer amendments failed.
Media Monopoly Archive 18 Feb 04 Take ACTION to oppose FCC plan to further deregulate TV/newspaper media ownership rules. PIRG supports all efforts to overturn the FCC rules, including the Congressional motion of disapproval HJR 72 (Hinchey-NY) that Speaker Hastert refuses to schedule for a vote, as well as the bipartisan bills, HR 2052 (Burr-R-NC, Dingell-D-MI) and S 1046 (Stevens-R-AK, Hollings-D-SC) to roll back the FCC's national media ownership cap. 27 March 03 San Antonio (TX)-- TEXPIRG, Texas State Rifle Association oppose FCC plan to weaken rules preventing powerful TV conglomerates from growing even more, threatening local news, local music and diversity of viewpoints heard on publicly owned airwaves.. Groups protested outside Clear Channel, the radio "poster child" for deregulation gone bad. FCC scheduled to vote 2 June 03 on plan opposed by musicians, screenwriters, journalists, conservatives, liberals to weaken limits on ownership of TV stations and to allow cross-ownership of TV stations and newspapers in same town. For more info, Center for Digital Democracy. See PIRG letter (Sept 2002) to House Energy and Commerce Chairman Tauzin (R-LA) urging consumer protections in digital television.
Antitrust archive 26 Sept 01-- PIRG joins CFA, CU, MAP in issuing report (report pdf, CFA site) on Microsoft Monopoly, calls for tough remedies by prosecutors--Joint News Release (release pdf, here), Letter to Attorneys General and DOJ (letter pdf, CFA site). The report and letter argue that Microsoft XP bundles software and Internet services in ways that will harm competition, hurt consumers and extend the company's illegal monopoly. U.S. PIRG statement. Microsoft XP/Passport Unfair and Deceptive: FTC issues settlement order upholding EPIC/PIRG et al complaint. (08 Aug 02) U.S. PIRG on 26 July 01 joined the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and 10 other groups in filing a Section 5 complaint to the Federal Trade Commission alleging that the product is marketed in an unfair and deceptive manner that invades privacy. Link to complaint on EPIC site. Posted 26 July 01. On 15 August, with new information, the groups filed an amended complaint (EPIC site). Facing inaction by FTC, follow-up letter sent 23 October 01.
IRS Privacy and RAL archive 9 April 03 Follow-up letter to Treasury, IRS, FTC from PIRG and other consumer groups over HR Block's use of confidential taxpayer information for marketing. 25 March 03 Consumer and privacy groups send letter (link to press release) to Treasury Department's Pam Olson, leading tax policy official in Bush administration, arguing that HR Block website may violate privacy provisions of tax laws when it steers consumers seeking on line tax filings to cross-marketed, sub-prime loan products. (5 Sept 02) Leading consumer groups urge IRS not to give predatory tax preparer services access to IRS web site. Comment letter and press release from U.S. PIRG, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumer Law Center and Consumers Union. Agency has proposed linking to industry consortium website if firms offer "free" electronic tax filing, but would not prevent firms from marketing overpriced Refund Anticipation Loans and other overpriced services. (5 Sept 02)
CPSC Archive On 25 July 02 former New Mexico Attorney General Hal Stratton was confirmed by the Senate as CPSC chairman. Stratton has no product safety record but does have a record of founding an anti-regulatory "public interest" law firm. US PIRG will monitor his tenure closely to see if he continues the strong product safety leadership championed by former Chairman Ann Brown. See a petition filed on 20 Aug 02 by Consumer Federation of America, U.S. PIRG, physicians' associations and other safety organizations urging CPSC to ban sale of All terrain Vehicles to children under 16. SENATE COMMERCE COMMITTEE DEFEATS PIRG-OPPOSED BUSH NOMINEE TO HEAD CPSC: On 2 Aug 01 the Senate Commerce Committee voted against the President's nomination of current Commissioner Mary Sheila Gall to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). This was the first Senate defeat of a Bush nominee. The nomination was also opposed by Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports Magazine. PIRG's press release commending Senate Commerce Committee for 12-11 vote to defeat Gall nomination. (Back to TOP)
Patients Rights Archive PIRG Condemns Norwood/Bush Deal On Patients' Rights: See news release. "The House-passed Patients Rights Bill offers rights without remedies and should be rejected in conference committee. PIRG is disappointed that the House made the wrong choice and put HMO interests before the rights of patients, when it narrowly agreed to a gutting amendment negotiated by former champion Charlie Norwood (GA) and President Bush." 3 Aug 01 Find out about U.S. PIRG's National Patients' Rights and Health Care Platform.
Payday Loans Archive: 3 Oct 02 National consumer and community groups send letter to Congress, warning that loan sharks are in town seeking legislation protecting their usurious lending from regulation. 13 Nov 01-- State PIRGs and Consumer Federation of America (CFA) release new Payday Lending report and survey--Rent A Bank Payday Lending documents the growing scam where triple-digit payday lenders are partnering with national banks to avoid tough state usury ceilings. The report surveys 235 payday lenders in 20 states and DC. Finds interest rates averaging 470% APR for two-week payday loans. Updates all known state legal and legislative activity. It updates a PIRG/CFA payday report and survey released in 2000, Show Me The Money. See also, COPIRG's "Small Loans, Big Money, A Survey of Payday Lenders in Colorado And Review of the Colorado Deferred Deposit Loan Act of 2000" (19 April 01). On 3 Jan 02, federal bank regulators at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) finally listened to PIRG and CFA and issued an order to force Eagle National Bank out of its disgraceful "rent-a-bank" arrangement with the payday lender Dollar Financial. It's a good first step. Now, OCC and FDIC need to go after all the "rent-a-banks."
Tobacco control archive Download NYPIRG's 108 page e-book "Blowing Away The Smokescreen" on tobacco control in New York State. NY Students-- NYPIRG is sponsoring a cash prize of $5,000 for the best "student produced 30-second anti-tobacco television ad." Entries due by 14 March 2003. Tobacco at the Movies: New MASSPIRG report based on analysis of leading 1996-97 and 1999-2000 PG 13 movies (before and after Multi-state Settlement Agreement with tobacco industry) finds that smoking scenes up 50% despite settlement restricting marketing. PIRGs call for voluntary actions by Hollywood chief Jack Valenti (no word back yet), including rating all smoking movies "R." (29 Oct 02). MASSPIRG's Tough On Tobacco Campaign: Nearly 400,000 Massachusetts residents lack health insurance. The Childrens and Seniors Trust Fund, which provides health care to 300,000 children and low-income families, is threatened by budget cuts. Where There's Smoking, There's Fire: One-third of all fatal household fires in Massachusetts in 2000 began with a cigarette according to a MASSPIRG report and map of 1500 cigarette-related fires, released 13 Nov. 2001 30 DEC 03 On December 30, Governor George Pataki approved NYPIRG-backed regulations requiring fire-safe (self-extinguishing) cigarettes.