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Bill would create new protection for shoppers who write online reviews

Laws and LegislationInsuranceMark DeSaulnier
A California bill to protect online shoppers against fine-print legalese faces little opposition
Consumer advocates back a California bill that seeks to provide some new protection for online buyers

Some bills that ordinarily might generate some controversy fly through the Legislature with nary a vote against them.

Consider AB 2365 by Assembly Speaker Emeritus John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles). Introduced in February, it has encountered almost no opposition.

The bill seeks to provide some new legal protection for consumers who offer online opinions or comments. It would make it illegal for retailers to require customers to agree not to complain publicly, such as in online reviews, about their purchases.

Such legalese often is found in small type in pop-up windows that prompt online buyers to agree to the terms before completing a purchase. Merchants, before threatening to or taking legal action, would have to prove that a customer knowingly and voluntarily agreed to not post negative comments.

"If merchants think that our 1st Amendment free speech rights need to be curtailed, they should say so upfront and in plain language," Pérez said. His bill is supported by consumer advocates, the Los Angeles city attorney and TechNet, a lobbying group for many Silicon Valley companies.

It's unclear how big a problem Pérez wants to fix. According to legislative research, Pérez appears to have based his measure on a single case, reported by CNN, of an online retailer trying to collect a penalty against a Utah couple.

That apparently was enough to win unanimous passage from the Assembly Judiciary Committee and a bipartisan 14-3 vote on May 7 from the Appropriations Committee.

"When you have got pretty diverse support and no opposition and with the speaker running the bill, those bills do seem to lead a charmed life," said Chris Kahn, a veteran Sacramento contract lobbyist. Kahn is not working on Pérez's bill. But, maybe, said Randy Kanouse, a retired water lobbyist of 32 years, it's because the bill "really does very little."

Small-business health rule

A business-backed bill is moving through the state Senate that would let companies with fewer than 50 workers keep existing health insurance for one more year, before switching to health plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act.

Individual policyholders weren't granted such a reprieve for 2014. Last fall, about 900,000 Californians with individual policies were told to find replacement coverage for canceled policies.

Small companies are not obligated to provide health insurance, but many employers do so voluntarily. The extra time, said supporters of the bill, SB 1446 by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), would allow business owners the flexibility to keep their current health policies before having to switch by Dec. 31, 2015.

The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Health Committee on May 8 and was sent to the Appropriations Committee.

State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said he supports the measure because "it's important to provide some flexibility as we transition to the new coverage options."

marc.lifsher@latimes.com
Twitter: @MarcLifsher

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Laws and LegislationInsuranceMark DeSaulnier
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