2002 Legislative Update from the
NYS Assembly
Consumer Affairs
and Protection

Sheldon Silver, Speaker · Audrey I. Pheffer, Chair · December 2002

  Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer

From the Chair...

As Chair of the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee, I am pleased to report the results of a very successful legislative session.

This year several initiatives have passed the Assembly and have been enacted into law. Among the new laws enacted is legislation making identity theft a crime. New Yorkers will now be protected from the fraudulent use of their personal information and identity. In addition, legislation limiting the use of drawstrings in children’s clothing, enhancing protection afforded to debit card transactions and increasing consumer protection regarding dance studio contracts has been enacted.

I’m proud of these accomplishments and will continue to fight to protect consumers throughout all of New York State.


Safeguarding New York’s Children

Child Clothing Safety Enhanced

For the sixth consecutive year, the Assembly passed a bill to enhance child safety by limiting drawstrings on certain children’s clothing that pose risk. Seventeen deaths and forty-two injuries associated with drawstrings on children’s clothing have been reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Chapter 530 of the Laws of 2002 (Dinowitz) prohibits the sale of children’s clothing that has either a large waist or bottom drawstring on size 2T to 12 clothing. This measure will significantly increase child safety by reducing drawstring-related accidents.

Car Seat Safety

The Committee reported and the Assembly passed A.4111 (Pheffer). This bill would provide consumers with important information regarding child safety seats and their proper use for maximum safety. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that a properly used car seat reduces the risk of fatality by 71% and the risk of serious injury by 67% for children of less than 5 years of age.

This bill would require the disclosure of the compatibility of the seat with the automobile and require the age limit of the child safety seat to be properly labeled. This measure would serve to help consumers, especially parents, in selecting a safe compatible car seat for their loved one.

This bill passed the Assembly but has not been acted on by the Senate.

Assemblywoman Pheffer invited Consumer Protection Board Chairwoman May Chao to present her consumer protection agenda to the members of the Consumer Affairs Committee. photo

Child Product Safety

This year, Speaker Sheldon Silver appointed Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) to chair the Assembly Sub-committee on Child Product Safety. As a result, K.3014 (Markey, Pheffer) was adopted to recognize August as Child Safety Month and K.3013 (Markey, Pheffer) was adopted to recognize September as Baby Safety Month.

On September 19th, the Committee and Subcommittee on Child Product Safety conducted a roundtable in New York City to discuss existing and emerging child product safety issues. Among the participants were: the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, the New York State Consumer Protection Board, the Office of the Attorney General, Consumers Union and NYPIRG.

The roundtable covered many important topics such as the national recall system, child safety seats and promoting education on child safety issues.

New Laws Enhance Consumers’ Personal Privacy

telephone Stop Unwanted Telephone Calls
The "Do Not Call" telephone preference registry was established by law effective April 1, 2001, to protect consumers from unwanted telemarketing sales calls. New Yorkers who register will be protected from most telemarketing calls.

The registry is published on a quarterly basis (April 1, July 1, October 1, and January 1). Telemarketing calls will not stop immediately after registration, because telemarketers have 30 days after the quarterly update to remove registered numbers from call lists.

If you receive a telemarketing call that you believe is in violation of the law, record the following information: the date and time the call was received; the name and address of the company that called; a manager’s name; the name of the company whose product or service is sold by the telemarketer; and any service or product information. With this information, you can file a complaint against the telemarketer.

To file a complaint regarding an alleged violation, contact the Consumer Protection Board (CPB) at 1 (800) 697-1220 or via the internet at www.consumer.state.ny.us.

"Click Here For Printable View"

"Do Not Call" Registration

To register for the "Do Not Call" list, complete this form and mail it to: New York State Consumer Protection Board, Attn: Do-Not-Call Registry, 5 Empire State Plaza, Suite 2101, Albany, NY 12223.

City, State
and Zip Code

Residential Telephone
Numbers to be

placed on the list

Identity Theft Legislation Signed into Law

From November 1999 to September 2001, the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Identity Theft Clearinghouse received a total of 94,100 complaints and has received more than 2000 calls a week. In that time frame, New York City registered the highest number of identity theft complaints in the nation.

For the past five years, identity theft legislation has been the Committee’s top legislative priority. The Committee held public hearings on personal privacy, conducted press conferences and held countless meetings with consumer and industry groups in an attempt to advance this legislation.

This year, A.4939-E (Pheffer) has been enacted into law. Chapter 619 of the laws of 2002 defines consumers as the victim of the crime, as well as financial institutions. It sets out a range of penalties for those who aid, attempt or commit identity theft — ranging from a class A misdemeanor to a class D felony.

By enacting an identity theft law, New York will provide law enforcement and local district attorneys with an important tool to prevent this crime.

Strengthened Protection for Credit and Debit Cards

In addition to reporting Identity Theft legislation, the Committee pursued increased credit and debit card protections in order to reduce the occurrence of fraud.

Chapter 479 of the Laws of 2002 increases security for debit card transactions by prohibiting merchants from writing a card holder’s name and card number on a separate form other than the transaction form. This measure will reduce the proliferation of personal information attached to debit card transaction forms, thereby reducing the potential for fraud. This mirrors current law for credit card transaction forms. This new law will take effect on January 1, 2003.

Protecting Consumers in Today’s Marketplace

Free Credit Reports for All Residents

A.11488 (Pheffer) would provide consumers with one free credit report on an annual basis. Currently consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report only if there is a denial for credit or if an adverse action was taken based on information in the report. Otherwise, consumers must purchase a copy of the report, which costs approximately eight dollars.

Providing consumers with one free credit report would not only be helpful in increasing financial awareness, but it would also help guard against fraud by allowing a consumer to be aware of any requests for credit. A.11488 advanced to the 3rd Reading in the Assembly. This issue will continue to be a priority of the Committee.

Increased Consumer Protection For Funeral Goods and Services

In 2001, Chairwoman Pheffer sponsored a law that increased consumer protection of monies used toward funeral goods and services. The Preneed Funeral Consumer Protection Act of 2001 prohibits funeral directors from receiving a commission from the sale of a funeral/burial insurance policy. This legislation effectively closed a loophole in the law by ensuring that there is no financial incentive to steer a consumer towards any type of funeral service.

The law also ensures that money deposited in an interest-bearing trust could not be invested in surety bonds. This change was prompted by consumer losses in Florida, where monies were put in surety bonds and then lost when the bond issuers defaulted on bond payments.

The Preneed Funeral Consumer Protection Act of 2001 will expire on June 1, 2003. The Committee is working hard to ensure that the Act is renewed in order to protect consumers during a time of grief and loss. New York State has a reputation for having the strongest consumer protection laws for funeral services in the United States, and we will work hard to maintain our status.

Antitrust Class Action

A.11123 (Pheffer) would allow consumers who allege antitrust violations the option of proceeding in a class action lawsuit. This would effectively broaden the avenues a consumer could pursue while better utilizing resources and reducing the costs of litigation.

The history of the antitrust law reflects the desire of the legislature to protect consumers from price fixing, overcharges and other effects of monopolies and enable them to seek damages if appropriate. In 1999, legislation provided for a private right of action when a claim arose from a purchase made indirectly, i.e., through a middleman. Recently, the New York County Supreme Court dismissed two class action suits brought pursuant to that law, holding that a class action will survive only when a statute specifically provides for it. A.11123 would make that express provision. While this measure has passed the Assembly, the Senate has failed to act on this legislation.

Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements containing ephedra, which are promoted for weight loss and to increase muscle mass, have steadily increased in popularity. Increased use of supplements perpetuates the misconception that these supplements are completely safe and do not have adverse side effects. Recently, the NFL, NCAA and IOC have banned athletes from using dietary supplements containing ephedra due to health concerns including cardiovascular and neurological problems that may cause heart failure and seizures.

To respond to this issue, Chairwoman Pheffer introduced A.9796, which would ban the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra to minors. This measure would also require the posting of warning labels in retail outlets where the product is sold. This measure passed the Assembly. Unfortunately, the Senate has failed to act on this measure.

Enhancing Safety in Health Clubs

A.4665-A (Pheffer) would ensure consumer safety in health club facilities by requiring health clubs to employ at least one person who is certified in first aid and CPR. Health clubs offer a variety of activities, many of which can be strenuous and may result in injury. By setting a minimum safety standard, serious injuries may be prevented. This bill passed the Assembly and was not acted on by the Senate.

Price Gouging

A.4110 (Pheffer) would allow consumers to seek relief from alleged price gougers. It was introduced to help consumers fight price gouging during times of emergency and natural disaster. Price gouging during the 1998 North Country ice storm and the September 11th attacks demonstrate the need for this legislation. This bill has passed the Assembly. Unfortunatey, the Senate failed to act on this bill.

New York State Funeral Directors President Mark Kowolczyk and Secretary /Treasurer Thomas Kearns present Chairwoman Pheffer with an award for her diligence on behalf of New York’s consumers.
Labelling Sunscreen Products

According to the American Cancer Society, over 800,000 new skin cancer cases of highly curable basal cell or squamous cell cancers are diagnosed each year. Since 1973, the incidence of skin cancer has increased about 4% each year.

Many consumers use sunscreen products to prevent the risk of skin cancer. In light of this widespread use, it is important that consumers are made aware that sunscreen is not protective against the sun’s rays after a certain shelf life.

For the seventh consecutive year, the Assembly passed A.1988 (Weisenberg) to inform consumers that sunscreen products have a limited effective life by requiring all sunscreen products to be labelled with expiration dates and storage recommendations.

This bill passed the Assembly but has not been acted on by the Senate.

Wear and Tear

One of the top complaints associated with the leasing of an automobile is wear and tear assessments. Lessors and lessees often differ over the amount of damage and charges that are assessed. A.11096 (Pheffer) was introduced to reduce this problem by requiring a lessor to do a "walk around" inspection for damage when the lessee returns the car. The “walk around" inspection would enable both parties to be aware of general damage to the vehicle and discuss any related concerns. This legislation should reduce the volume of complaints associated with the assessment of wear and tear charges.

This bill advanced to the 3rd Reading in the Assembly.

For more information, contact:
Assemblymember Audrey I. Pheffer, Chair
Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection
Room 941 LOB · Albany, NY 12248 · (518) 455-4292

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