Only four states had consumer protection penalties lower than Washington
OLYMPIA — The Washington Legislature today passed the Consumer Protection Improvement Act, an attorney general-request bill that increases the maximum civil penalties for Consumer Protection Act violations from $2,000 to $7,500. This bill will update these penalties for the first time since they were adopted in 1970. Strong consumer protection penalties provide accountability, deter future violations and ensure a level playing field for business.
Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, sponsored the Consumer Protection Improvement Act, Senate Bill 5025. The measure, which passed in a bipartisan vote of 31-18 in the Senate and 57-41 in the House, now heads to the governor’s desk.
Washington currently has some of the lower per-violation consumer protection penalties in the country. Only four states have penalties lower than Washington’s, which is why the National Consumer Law Center characterized Washington’s current consumer protection penalties as “weak.”
SB 5025 also increases Washington’s penalties for antitrust violations and creates a first-of-its-kind enhanced penalty for consumer protection violations that target vulnerable communities and protected classes.
“Washington’s Consumer Protection Act penalties have not changed in more than 50 years,” Ferguson said. “Today, the Legislature took an important step to fix that. Strong penalties deter illegal conduct that harms Washingtonians and allow my office to hold violators accountable. This new, strengthened law will provide Washingtonians with greater protections against illegal, unfair and deceptive business practices.”
The bill includes a new, enhanced penalty of $10,000 for violations that target vulnerable communities, including seniors, immigrants, BIPOC communities, individuals with disabilities and veterans.
“This bill represents a major advance in consumer protections for Washingtonians and gives the Attorney General the authority to properly penalize businesses that attempt to scam or defraud our residents,” Sen. Rolfes said. “The new laws will especially help older adults and other vulnerable groups, who are disproportionately impacted by fraudulent activities.”
The penalties in the Consumer Protection Act, Washington’s law protecting consumers against unfair and deceptive business practices, have not kept up with inflation. Because of this, the punitive impact of the fine has dramatically decreased since the law was first passed — today’s $2,000 is worth about $300 in 1970 dollars. Ferguson’s legislation updates the penalties to $7,500 per each unfair or deceptive practice that violates the Consumer Protection Act.
The bill also strengthens the penalties in the Consumer Protection Act for antitrust violations, which have not increased from $500,000 since they were adopted in 1983 in Attorney General Request proposed by Attorney General Eikenberry. Ferguson’s bill increases antitrust penalties to $900,000.
Despite the proliferation of scams and deceptive business practices both in person and online, Consumer Protection Act penalties have not increased in decades.
These new stronger penalties provide the Attorney General’s Office with more powerful tools to end unlawful business practices.
The Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division enforces the Consumer Protection Act and other statutes to help keep the Washington marketplace free of unfair and deceptive practices. The division investigates and files legal actions to stop unfair and deceptive practices, recovers refunds for consumers, seeks penalties and recovers costs and fees to ensure that wrongdoers pay for their actions.
Prior to 2013, the Attorney General’s Office was limited in resources, and was only able to take large cases to trial. Since January 2013, the office has taken four consumer protection cases to trial — winning each one. Those trials are 5-Hour Energy, Comcast, Value Village, and CLA Estate Services. The Attorney General’s Office affirmative litigation divisions have recovered more than $750 million for Washingtonians and state and tribal governments.
Consumers may report any unfair or deceptive business practices to the Consumer Protection Division by filing a complaint at https://www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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