Attorney General thanks legislators for passing consumer-protection legislation in 2011 session
EVANSVILLE, IN – May 5, 2011 – (RealEstateRama) — State legislators passed new laws to protect the telephone privacy of cell phone users, provide restitution to consumers who have been scammed and create important legal protections for homeowners at risk of foreclosure. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller today thanked area legislators for passing eight important consumer protection bills during the 2011 session of the Indiana General Assembly that ended Friday.
“The public perception is often shaped by the disagreement and divisive aspects of the Legislature. But that’s not really the case in the areas of protecting Hoosiers from frauds and scams. Your state legislators of both parties and both houses consistently work across the aisle to reach agreement and craft effective new laws. The consumer protection bills my office recommended at the beginning of session have all passed nearly unanimously, and that reflects how legislators step up to serve as advocates for their constituents. For the effort they put into reviewing bills and anticipating unintended consequences of new laws, the legislators deserve our thanks,” Zoeller said.
At a news conference today in Evansville, Zoeller thanked area legislators who supported consumer-friendly legislation this session, including State Representatives Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, Ron Bacon, R-Chandler, Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, and Sue Ellspermann, R-Ferdinand; and State Senators Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, and Lindel Hume, D-Princeton.
Some of the bills already have been signed into law by the Governor and others await his signature. Most provisions of new laws will take effect July 1. Zoeller highlighted these bills today:
Cell Phones and the Do Not Call List – House Enrolled Act 1273
Bill Status: Final version passed 50-0 in the Senate and 93-0 in the House; sent to the Governor’s desk.
Telephone privacy is enforced by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. Implemented under former Attorney General Steve Carter, the popular Do Not Call law protects Hoosier consumers from annoying, unwanted telemarketing calls. More than 1.8 million residential phone numbers now are registered on the Do Not Call list. Telephone solicitors who violate the law and call those numbers can face lawsuits from the Attorney General’s Office and financial penalties.
“Because many Hoosiers now use cell phones only and do not have land lines at home, we wanted to statutorily extend the protections of the Do Not Call list for cell phone users so they also can be shielded from intrusive solicitors,” Zoeller said. House Enrolled Act 1273 clarifies the statute, allowing Hoosiers to register their cell phone numbers, prepaid wireless calling and interconnected VOIP service onto the Do Not Call list if that cell number or service is used as their residential phone number. Telemarketers who call a cell phone number registered on the Do Not Call list will face the same penalties as those who call a registered land line.
Senators Becker, Tomes and Hume were Senate co-sponsors of the bill. “HEA 1273 is a common sense proposal to add the same protections regarding the Do Not Call List for cell phone users which we currently have for land lines,” Becker said.
Consumer Enforcement Assistance Fund – House Enrolled Act 1182
Bill Status: Final version passed 48-0 in the Senate and 90-0 in the House; sent to the Governor’s desk.
During the foreclosure crisis, many homeowners were victimized by foreclosure-rescue fraud or by deceptive credit-services or home-loan practices. Many in turn filed consumer complaints with the Attorney General’s Office. But if a company committing a fraud or scam went out of business, there might be no assets with which to pay restitution or damages to the victims.
Attorney General Zoeller supported creating an Enforcement Assistance Fund, so that victims who report wrongdoing to the state can receive up to $3,000 in compensation in certain cases. The assistance is funded through civil penalties recovered from companies sued by the Attorney General for violating certain consumer protection laws. The fund is modeled on a $125,000 restitution fund the 2010 Legislature created to reimburse victims of the American Escrow fraud.
Representative Riecken was a co-author of the bill. “Victims of real estate fraud should benefit greatly by the restitution fund set up in HEA 1182, legislation the Attorney General spearheaded,” Riecken said.
Human Trafficking and Child Solicitation Study – House Enrolled Act 1083
Bill Status: Final version passed 93-1 in the House and 50-0 in the Senate; sent to Governor’s desk.
Many law enforcement agencies are worried about the growing problem of human trafficking that forces vulnerable minors into lives of child prostitution and underage sexual exploitation. House Enrolled Act 1083 creates a summer study committee to examine whether Indiana’s criminal penalty for child solicitation should be revised, or if a new criminal offense of child trafficking should be added to the Indiana code. The study committee’s recommendations then would be considered by the 2012 Legislature.
Representative Crouch was author of the bill, which also contains several other important provisions that will assist school corporations in educating students about the risks of sharing explicit materials online and in protecting them from online bullying.
“The legislation I authored this session to further protect children from cyber-crimes and bullying on school computers is something I believe is very necessary in this technological age,” Representative Crouch said. “We want to ensure that if materials that are harmful to minors are sent using technology, whether that be a cell phone or computer, especially if they are sexually explicit, that the people sending those materials are prosecuted. The bill also will require the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission to study certain sex crimes against children this summer. These are steps that I hope will cut down on bullying in schools and that will help shield our children from harm,” Crouch said.
Homeowners Associations – House Enrolled Act 1058
Bill Status: Passed 90-8 in the House and 49-0 in the Senate; signed into law by the Governor on April 20.
Under state law, the Attorney General’s Office has a regulatory role over charitable and nonprofit organizations to ensure they spend donations as intended; and it can seek legal remedies such as an injunction or board reform if a nonprofit has engaged in illegal or fraudulent activity.
House Enrolled Act 1058 was the result of concerns expressed by constituents in Jeffersonville who complained they had little recourse to stop questionable activity by a homeowners association. Zoeller supported HEA 1058 which extends the legal safeguards on nonprofits to homeowners associations as well. The legislation allows the Attorney General to bring a lawsuit against a homeowners association or its board and seek injunctions against illegal conduct, or seek restitution or civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.
“Because they impose fees on and require certain things of residents, homeowners associations exist almost as their own form of government. Therefore it is appropriate that they be publicly accountable and subject to review. House Enrolled Act 1058 was the result of Hoosier constituents bringing a local problem to their elected officials and asking them to pass a law to correct it. This is a perfect example of democracy at work,” Zoeller said.
Mortgage Foreclosure Best Practices – Senate Enrolled Act 582
Bill Status: Final version passed 89-0 in the House and 47-1 in the Senate; now moves to the Governor’s desk.
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office is participating in the 50-state investigation of “robo-signing”: the practice by mortgage lenders of improperly signing and filing foreclosure documents in court without authenticating them, leading to erroneous foreclosure actions. A foreclosure-prevention task force developed a list of guidelines called “Mortgage Foreclosure Best Practices” that Attorney General Zoeller filed in the Indiana Supreme Court and recommended the court implement statewide.
Separately, Senate Enrolled Act 582 makes some of the Mortgage Foreclosure Best Practices part of state statute. It requires courts to schedule settlement conferences between lenders and borrowers, and judges would not take final action on foreclosures until settlement conferences can take place. Courts could impose monetary civil penalties on lenders who failed to comply with the new requirements. Riecken was House co-sponsor of the bill.
Background Checks for Health Care Professionals – Senate Enrolled Act 363
Bill Status: Final version passed 95-0 in the House and 46-4 in the Senate; sent to Governor’s desk.
To screen out individuals with criminal records from working around the vulnerable elderly, Zoeller supported Senate Enrolled Act 363, which requires licensed health professionals — such as nurses and administrators – to undergo criminal background checks when they apply for a new license. Paid for at licensees’ expense, the background checks would be sent to the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency (IPLA), which oversees licensing applications for nurses and administrators.
Prescription Drug Disposal Sites – House Enrolled Act 1121
Bill Status: Final version passed 96-0 in the House and 48-0 in the Senate on April 25; sent to the Governor’s desk.
Abuse of prescription drugs – often stolen from medicine cabinets by teenagers – is a problem in Indiana. Attorney General Zoeller supported legislation to make it easier for Hoosiers to safely dispose of their unused or expired prescription medicines so the drugs are not diverted and abused, or flushed into waterways.
In some other states, pharmacy stores can provide disposal bins where consumers can safely discard unneeded prescription pills, tablets and liquids. During the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day event on April 30, Hoosier consumers were able to drop off unwanted drugs at 85 collection points statewide, but law enforcement officers had to stand by and supervise. To make the process more convenient, House Enrolled Act 1121 revises state law so that pharmacies and other health care facilities can voluntarily offer their customers drug-disposal sites, without the need for a police presence monitoring the disposal. To fully implement the program, a regulatory rule change by the Indiana Board of Pharmacy also is anticipated.
Transparency in Gaming Revenue – Senate Enrolled Act 325
Bill Status: Final version passed 87-0 in the House and 48-0 in the Senate; signed into law by the Governor on April 28.
If riverboat casino dollars flow into a development company’s coffers, that company should be required to disclose to the state how it spends the money, under legislation Attorney General Zoeller supports. The legislation requires disclosure by any for-profit or nonprofit corporation that receives casino revenue through a Local Development Agreement or LDA.
In communities with riverboat casinos, state law already requires setting up an LDA so a portion of casino revenue is set aside and directed to fund local economic development projects to boost tourism. A for-profit company that received $16 million from the East Chicago casino over 10 years never has publicly disclosed how it spent the casino revenue, however, and so the Attorney General’s Office has pursued ongoing litigation to require transparency.
Senate Enrolled Act 325 requires disclosure by any organization that receives casino revenue through an LDA: a for-profit corporation, a nonprofit such as a community foundation, or a charitable trust. Results of an accounting will be provided to the Indiana Gaming Commission and Attorney General’s Office
Phone: (317) 233-3970
Email: Bryan.Corbin (at) atg.in (dot) gov