- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - An expanded “do-not-call” registry that includes text messaging and new protections for heating oil customers were among several consumer protection bills that cleared the Connecticut Senate on Tuesday and will head to the House for final action.

One bill that would add unwanted text messages to the list of prohibited activities under the state’s do-not-call law unanimously passed the Senate.

Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s General Law Committee, noted that text messages have become more popular over the past five to 10 years and that some consumers are getting charged per text, even for unsolicited ones from telemarketers and other companies.

“It could cost money, in addition to being an annoyance,” Doyle said.

The bill also increases penalties for registry violations from $11,000 to $20,000 per violation, and requires telephone and telecommunications companies to notify customers twice a year about telemarketing prohibitions, as well as how customers can sign up for the registry and how to file a complaint with the state Department of Consumer Protection if they receive unwanted text messages.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that bars fuel heating dealers from offering a pre-paid guaranteed price plan from Nov. 1 to March 31. Doyle said that’s the time period when heating dealers have become financially strapped and taken advantage of their customers.

“We are basically prohibiting the sale of these plans at the last minute, in the middle of the season,” Doyle said.

The bill stems from the case of Ace Oil Co. in Meriden, which stopped making oil deliveries last year to customers, even though they had prepaid for fuel. Ace’s owner has filed for bankruptcy, citing nearly $3 million in debts. Half of that was owed to prepaid customers.

Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, said she had constituents tell her they had lost $1,900 to $3,700 after the company closed. Some, she said, were elderly people on fixed budgets.

“It was heartbreaking not to be able to recoup them on the spot,” she said.

Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, the ranking senator on the General Law Committee, said the bill also clarifies language that allows dealers to charge an additional fee for heating fuel deliveries of less than 100 gallons. Currently, the law says “not more than 100 gallons,” which Witkos said has led to some people being charged extra for a 100-gallon delivery.

The Senate also voted to require chain pharmacies with discount rewards programs to inform customers, in plain language, they are waiving their health privacy rights if they sign up.



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