By Angela Martin of Portland, Oregon. Angela is a policy advocate for Our Oregon, a non-profit organization that works for economic fairness.
This is shaping up to be the year of the consumer in the Oregon legislature. Legislators are debating consumer protection bills aimed at helping families by protecting some of our most important assets: our homes, vehicles, income and tax returns.
On Wednesday, Oregon lawmakers voted in support of 3 of these key bills that will protect consumers during these rough economic times. Legislators—and Democratic leadership—deserve a big round of applause for taking bold steps to help level the playing field for regular Oregonians.
With their important votes, legislators acted to prevent homeowners from the next foreclosure crisis, moved to crack down on illegal and abusive debt collection practices, and gave consumers more protections against unscrupulous debt collectors.
Here’s what they accomplished so far:
Taming Abusive Debt Collectors
The House of Representatives helped to protect consumers from illegal debt collection practices by passing SB 328. The bill finally closes a decades-old loophole that gave the debt collection industry a special exemption from enforcement. The Department of Justice will now be able to enforce the law against unlawful debt collectors.
Passing SB 328 was a top priority for Attorney General John Kroger. Complaints about debt collectors have been in the top ten consumer complaints to the DOJ since 2001, with over 800 written complaints in 2008. Consumers have reported being harassed by debt collectors who call at all hours, use abusive language, and make threats of imprisonment. This is expected to get worse as the economy tumbles.
SB 328 will give the Oregon Department of Justice the authority to protect consumers by enforcing the laws we already have. This means putting a stop to the worst abuses and creating a strong deterrent against breaking the law.
The Senate passed SB 328 in February, and the bill now goes to the Governor's desk.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 386, introduced by Senator Bonamici and co-sponsored by Senator Monnes-Anderson and Representative Holvey. As Senator Bonamici explained, SB 386 will stop the “sue first, ask questions later” tactics of aggressive bill collectors. It’s become an all too common practice for debt collectors to pursue debts that don't even exist, and the cards are stacked against consumers who are harmed by illegal debt collection practices.
SB 386 makes it illegal for a debt collector to attempt to collect a debt that they know, or have good reason to know, does not exist, and removes obstacles facing consumers who deserve to have their day in court.
The bill now goes to the house for consideration.
Preventing the Next Mortgage Meltdown
Homeownership is the cornerstone of the American dream and an anchor of financial stability for hardworking families. It’s old news to talk about the housing crisis, but the fact remains that risky loans have contributed to record high foreclosures. Predictions are that we will see 55 foreclosures a day in Oregon this year!
On Wednesday, the Oregon House passed House Bill 2188, which will take solid steps towards preventing the next mortgage meltdown.
HB 2188 will help prevent the same type of risky lending that got us into the current foreclosure crisis, by tightening lending rules around “negative amortization” loans. These loans have been especially risky contributors to the mortgage meltdown and the resulting financial crisis.
HB 2188 also provides homeowners equal access to justice when violations occur, ensuring that all consumers have the ability to protect themselves if they are victimized by unlawful lending practices.
Further, the bill requires that when a lender purposefully solicits business from people who speak a language other than English, the disclosures be translated to the language in which the sales pitch was made.
HB 2188 now moves on to the state Senate.
While the struggling economy continues to pose serious threats to the vast majority of Oregonians, it’s encouraging to see that there are so many leaders in this state who are willing to stand up for policies that will level the playing field for average consumers.