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Bill promotes aid for consumers

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You believe you've been ripped off by a business. Where do you turn?

A bill passed out by a House committee Friday would make Utah consumers more aware that the state Division of Consumer Protection might be able to help.

HB65 calls for $20,000 to allow the division to start a public awareness campaign to tell consumers about their rights under the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act and the existence and role of the division in helping consumers.

The House Business and Labor Committee passed out the substitute bill unanimously.

An earlier version of the bill called for retailers to post a notice near a point of sale that a consumer who believed himself to be a victim of a "deceptive sales practice" may have rights under the act. It called for the division's telephone number and Web site address to be on the notification and said retailers would be subject to fines of $100 per day, up to $2,500, for failing to post the notification.

"The consumers aren't taking advantage of this resource because they don't know about it," the bill's sponsor, said Rep. Susan Lawrence, R-East Millcreek. "We wanted to do something that would get that notice out that there is an agency in place to help them and that they have protection under the law with the Consumer Sales Practices Act. . . . We certainly have this wonderful agency we're funding, and we need to utilize them."

The substitute bill came after discussions with business community representatives.

"We have been working with them," Lawrence said. "They had some great suggestions about ways we could deal with the very few businesses and people that don't seem to want to engage in good business practices. The majority are trying very hard to treat their customers and their consumers fairly, so we don't want to be punitive to those in business that are doing well, but we need to get this information out."

Some businesses are becoming "very creative and very subtle" in circumventing the law, she said, adding that some are blatant because "they're aware that most people don't know what to do and don't know that they can do anything."

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said he favored the substitute bill. The original version put a burden on businesses and would not have been very effective, he said.

The meeting did have one moment of levity. When four bill supporters came forward to testify and introduced themselves, committee Chairman Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, asked if they were going to sing. The group instantly began serenading the committee with a few measures of "Kumbaya."

"Holy cow!" Clark replied amid laughter. "Uh, you just lost your bill."

"All of you would rather have heard that than individually sitting down here and telling you how much they appreciate this bill," Lawrence said.

After the bill was passed out, Lawrence thanked the ersatz choir. "Don't," Clark joked, "bring them again."

E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com