SACRAMENTO, CA – The Car Buyers' Bill of Rights, vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September, will be back next year – both as a ballot initiative and as an Assembly bill, reported the Sacramento Bee newspaper.
A Democratic law firm this week took initial steps toward putting consumer protection for car buyers on the statewide ballot. And Democrats are also prepared to introduce a bill similar to the one Schwarzenegger vetoed, according to activists on both sides of the issue.
After an intense debate between consumer advocates and car dealers earlier in the year, the Legislature approved a bill that would have set minimum standards for certified used cars. Vehicles with that label could not have been totaled, returned under the state's lemon law, or had their odometers rolled back.
The bill also would have required new-and used-car dealers to put buyers' credit scores in writing and would have barred dealers from charging more than 2.5 percent interest above the rate that the buyers qualified for based on their credit.
In a move hailed by car dealers, Schwarzenegger killed the measure, AB 1839, written by Assemblywoman Cindy Montañez, D-San Fernando. The governor said the wording of the bill was too vague.
Consumer advocates criticized the veto, pointing to the roughly $1 million in campaign contributions car dealers and manufacturers had made to the Republican governor's campaign account.
Robin Johansen, the San Leandro lawyer who submitted the proposed ballot initiative to Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office, said she could not divulge whom she was representing.
"We have clients who think these are important issues that should go in front of the voters," said Johansen, whose firm often represents Democrats in high-profile political cases.
Democratic lawmakers have already said they are considering going to the ballot with other policies Schwarzenegger has vetoed, such as allowing Californians to buy prescription drugs from Canada.
The car-buyers' initiative submitted to the attorney general, a preliminary step before gathering signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, contains even stronger consumer protections than the bill Schwarzenegger vetoed, reported the Sacramento Bee.
It reinstates a provision that was dropped from the bill that would allow used-car buyers to return their vehicles within a three-day cooling-off period. It contains a provision that used vehicles must pass a smog check before they can be sold. It also contains tougher penalties for defrauding military personnel, who often are scam targets.
"I think it's healthy for our democracy to involve people in this," said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, the group that sponsored the Montañez bill. "You could be scammed thousands of dollars in your car transaction and not even know it."
Shahan said Montañez is also reintroducing legislation similar to the bill Schwarzenegger vetoed.
Brian Maas, a spokesman for the California Motor Car Dealers Association, said the group was working on compromise legislation of its own. "We're disappointed to see the Car Buyers' Bill of Rights has been reintroduced as an initiative," he said. "We think fixing this problem in the Legislature is something that can be achieved."
Maas said car dealers are in favor of creating standards for certified used cars and cracking down on hidden charges in car financing. But they oppose other provisions, such as a $150 cap on dealer commissions for car loans and leases.