Thursday, 30 May 2024

Legislation introduced to strengthen consumer protections for military service members

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) and Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) on Tuesday announced Senate Bill 1311 (SB 1311), which will extend additional legal and financial protections for active duty and reserve component service members and their families.

SB 1311, jointly authored by Sen. Talamantes Eggman and Pro Tem Atkins, and sponsored by Attorney General Bonta, stems from the California Department of Justice’s investigation and prosecution of businesses that have targeted service members and military families.

It also draws from previous discussions between the Attorney General and military personnel, JAG legal assistance attorneys, command financial counselors, and other members of the military and veterans community, including a July 2021 roundtable event at Naval Base San Diego.

If passed, the bill would establish stronger consumer protection laws for California’s service members.

“Military life and deployment place unique demands on service members and their families,” said Bonta. “With SB 1311, we are looking to shore up California’s military consumer protection laws to better serve our military community. I commend Senator Talamantes Eggman and Senate President pro Tempore Atkins for their leadership and efforts to implement stronger consumer protections for our military. Our brave service members and their families deserve nothing but our unwavering support, which is why I am honored to announce my sponsorship of this important legislation.”

“As a veteran myself, and coming from a family with a long history of service, I am familiar with how the very nature of serving in the military creates vulnerabilities to consumer scams and unfair business practices,” said Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman. “This legislation will provide service members with the consumer protections they need and deserve.”

“Given the extraordinary sacrifices veterans, active duty service members, and their families make in service to our nation, they should have confidence that they are protected from unfair and exploitative business practices, and have consumer protections befitting the unique circumstances of their service,” said Pro Tem Toni Atkins. “This bill will go a long way towards strengthening that assurance.”

SB 1311 draws from the Department of Justice’s experience protecting and working with military families in California. The Attorney General’s Office also sponsored Assembly Bill 3212 (Irwin), similar legislation unanimously approved by the Legislature in 2018 to expand consumer protections for California service members. Like that bill, SB 1311 seeks to strengthen California’s existing military consumer protection laws.

If signed into law, SB 1311 would, among other things:

• Establish the right to appear remotely, or through another military member, in small claims cases seeking the return of an improperly withheld security deposit;
• Make it illegal for a business to access the sensitive personal information stored on chip-based military ID cards (called Common Access Cards or CACs), or from using those cards to access sensitive military pay and personnel websites;
• Clarify existing law, which allows members of the Guard and Reserve to defer payments on mortgages and other obligations during a deployment, to ensure that interest is not accrued on a deferred mortgage obligation during the period of deferment;
• Prohibit businesses from offering military discounts that are conditioned on the service member or veteran waiving their rights under federal or state law;
• Amend state law regarding security interests to prevent businesses from taking advantage of a loophole and denying service members the full protections of the federal Military Lending Act;
• Impose enhanced civil penalties for violations of the Unfair Competition Law (UCL) perpetrated against service members and veterans;
• Enhance the ability of service members to terminate auto leases when they are reassigned or deployed; and
• Provide enlisted service members at the rank of E-5 (an Army, Marine Corps, or Space Force Sergeant, an Air Force Staff Sergeant, or a Navy or Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class), or below, who are all too often the targets of predatory auto sales practices, with an automatic 30-day cooling off period for auto purchases and leases to allow them to return the purchased or leased vehicle.

For more information about SB 1311, click here.

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