PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha wants to overhaul the state’s primary consumer protection law.
“I feel like we just don’t have the tools that we need to protect Rhode Island consumers,” Neronha said in an interview Wednesday.
The state’s current Deceptive Trade Practices Act is doesn’t allow the attorney general’s office to go after any business or entity that’s regulated by another state or federal agency.
“[The consumer protection unit] could be doing so much more for Rhode Islanders,” Neronha added. “They do a great job but their bandwidth is pretty narrow. If we expand that bandwidth we could do a lot more for the people of this state.”
Carolyn Carter, Deputy Director of the National Consumer Law Center, has studied deceptive trade practice laws across the country and said Rhode Island’s is one of the weakest.
“Pest control, home improvements, banks, predatory lenders tend to be regulated,” Carter said. “All of those entities are exempt from the statute in Rhode Island, which means it really doesn’t apply to anything.”
“Just because it’s regulated, that shouldn’t mean that it can do anything it wants and cheat consumers and get off scot-free,” she added.
Neronha’s proposed amendment to the Deceptive Trade Practices Act would broaden its scope and would allow the attorney general’s office to seek civil penalties for first violations of the statute. It would also allow consumers to recover three times their actual damages.
“I think this is really important to Rhode Islanders and will allow this office to do what I think many Rhode Islanders think we can and should do already but we just can’t do right now,” he said.
The proposal is supported by groups including AARP and the RI Center for Justice.
The Rhode Island Business Coalition said it supports the idea of the proposed law but in a letter to lawmakers said it “may have the unintended consequence of leading to baseless claims against businesses.”
“Businesses that do it the right way have nothing to fear from this statute,” Neronha said.
There are several groups opposing the bill including the RI Bankers Association and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island. Both told lawmakers they are already subject to extensive regulation.