Some Wins and Losses for Oregon Consumers
This is part of our 2013 Legislative Wrap series, where we’re giving the rundown on what the Oregonian Legislature accomplished across a range of issues and “grading” them on their work. For more in this series, hit the jump.
Mortgage bankers. Insurance companies. Debt collectors.
It’s not coincidental that you bristle when you see those names all lined up — these industries have been making headlines for years for abusive and exploitative practices. Thanks to dutiful work by Economic Fairness Oregon and other consumer protection advocates this legislative session, Oregon homeowners and non-homeowners alike are more secure with their investments in their homes and medical savings accounts. But several good idea policies were killed by debt collectors’ and the insurance industries’ motives, making this a mixed bag for consumer protection policies this legislative session.
One of the biggest wins this session was the passage of Senate Bill 558, which holds banks accountable to homeowners and a fair process for home foreclosures. The bill increased the number of banks, credit unions, and servicers subject to Oregon’s foreclosure mediation law, closing a foreclosure loophole and narrowing exemptions. This policy will help thousands of homeowners facing foreclosure or at risk of foreclosure by allowing those homeowners to meet face-to-face with their lenders. The bill also clarifies the Attorney General’s authority to bring legal action for non-compliance, increasing accountability of banks. If a bank does foreclose on a homeowner, the Legislature also passed HB 2662, which requires banks to maintain foreclosed properties rather than letting them become neighborhood eyesores.
Consumers also won big with SB 396, which improves Oregon’s bankruptcy laws and went into effect immediately (as of July 1, 2013.) The policy now allows Oregon families to protect funds in medical savings accounts, and lifts the ban against using federal bankruptcy exemptions. This change helps non-homeowners or people with little home equity protect important family assets like a car, tractor or tools of the trade so they can keep earning a living to pay back their debts.
The Legislature also passed HB 2536 to protect Oregonians from predatory lump sum loan vendors. Oregonians who rely on structured settlement payments (like payments from a workers’ compensation claim) are now offered additional protections; these safeguards are significant for injured and disabled Oregonians who are often otherwise exploited by predatory “cash now” loan companies.
HB 2826, a bill to stop robo-signed debt collection lawsuits against consumers by requiring debt buyers to provide basic evidence about who owes, how much is owed and the statute of limitations, would have been a great victory for Oregonians. Willamette Week ran a cover story on this issue in April, where they noted that “debt collectors generate more complaints to the Federal Trade Commission than any other industry… [They] rely on shoddy, inaccurate paperwork. The results are mistaken identifications, attempts to collect debts not owed, and harassment.” A similar bill just passed in California after the Attorney General brought legal action against JP Morgan Chase for faulty credit card debt collection lawsuits. But debt collectors opposed the bill (for obvious reasons), and succeeded in stopping it before it came for a vote in the Oregon House.
Insurance companies won big with the failure of two important consumer protection bills. Insurance companies retained their loophole in Oregon law when HB 3160, which would have subjected insurance companies to the same consumer protection laws as other companies, failed to get a vote in the Senate. This means that there is still no law in Oregon requiring insurance companies to deal fairly. If insurance companies hide coverage, deny claims or delay payments, consumers still have no way to hold them accountable.
Auto insurance companies celebrated when HB 2821, which would have made sure victims of car accidents receive the entirety of the coverage that has been paid for, failed on the Senate floor by one vote. And SB 413, a bill to regulate health insurance rates by increasing consumer access to rate review, also died this session after the House and Senate were unable to mediate proposed amendments.
GRADE: Cat Trying to Run Up a Slide