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Pick up your pens and fight for Ohio consumer protection

Published Thursday, October 4, 2007.

Ohio consumers have been stripped of their consumer protections and most don’t even know it. A law has been passed that will limit the amount of money that businesses that cheat, defraud or deceive Ohio consumers could have to pay if they are sued. Special interest groups, including the car dealers’ lobby, persuaded our legislators to make last-minute amendments to this bill. Then our elected officials pushed this bill, SB 117, into law during the lame-duck session, without any public hearing, and at record speed.

Within a mere 26 hours, SB 117 was passed and the results are devastating. SB 117 effectively weakens one of Ohio’s strongest consumer protection laws, the Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA), which has been in effect for over 30 years. The CSPA is a law designed to protect Ohio consumers from fraud, deception, and unconscionable acts of businesses in most consumer transactions. It applies to retail sales, car purchases, and predatory home loans. Among other things, SB 117 has capped the amount of non-economic damages that an Ohio consumer could receive at $5,000. This is a small cost of doing business for big-money corporations.

As a non-profit attorney who helps victims of predatory mortgage loans, I can tell you that the effects of this bill are heartbreaking. Last year, consumer advocates celebrated the passing of SB 185, Ohio’s new anti-predatory lending bill, which finally made non-bank lenders subject to the CSPA. As a consumer advocate I was thrilled; not because I would have another cause of action to bring in a lawsuit, but because I hoped that by making lenders subject to the CSPA, the awful predatory lending practices that I have seen destroy so many Ohio families would not be possible in the first place. The strength of the CSPA would deter businesses from taking advantage of Ohio citizens and our communities.

When I heard about the passing of SB 117, the back-door way it became law and the implications of the changes to the CSPA, I felt sick to my stomach, disgusted at how our government really works and outraged that our own elected officials would allow a law to pass that is so harmful to Ohio citizens. I’ve decided enough is enough. Sheryl Harris, a columnist from The Plain Dealer, recently addressed this issue in an article on September 23, 2007. She eloquently said, “We’ve all been cheated; it’s time to fight back . . . Pick up your pen. It’s time to get our law — and our legislature — back.” So please join me in the fight.

I am involved in a referendum petition drive organized by a coalition called “Voters Empowered to Overturn SB 117.” By signing this petition, you will give Ohio citizens a vote on the amendments made law by SB 117, which include, among other issues, the changes to the CSPA. In order to get this issue on the November 2008 ballot, we need to collect 241,366 signatures and get at least 44 counties to sign the referendum by October 30, 2007! We urgently need your help.

If you would like to sign or circulate a petition in the Athens or Vinton County area, please contact me directly at: melissa.greenlee@mvfairhousing.com or go to http://www.yourohiorights.org or call 1-866-529-8386.

Letter to the Editor / Melissa Greenlee is a 2000 alumna and a resident of Athens County.

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Kathy
Ohio wasn't enforcing its consumer protection laws anyhow.
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Awww, but I am better protected here in oHIo if I were to purchase a faulty toaster.

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