Incoming A-G targets cell phones, gas prices and utilities

Legal News Line Dec. 20, 2006, 9:52am

Minnesota Attorney General-elect Lori Swanson

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Attorney General-elect Lori Swanson is already staking out her legal territory. Her first shot across the bow came yesterday with an announcement that she would revive an unsuccessful attempt by her predecessor, Mike Hatch, to regulate the wireless-telephone industry, according to today's St Paul Pioneer Press. She also announced efforts to prevent price-gouging at the gas pump and to place more controls over Minnesota's utilities. Swanson, Minnesota's former solicitor-general, yesterday called for a "Cellular Telephone Consumer Protection Act" to pass in 2007 that would require carriers to tell customers whether changes in their arrangements affect their contracts, despite the fact that carriers say the law is unnecessary. Swanson said the attorney general's office receives 1,000 complaints annually from cell-phone customers about their carriers. Two months ago the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by former Attorney General Hatch against a U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to overturn a 2004 Minnesota law regulating cellular carriers. But unlike Hatch's bill, Swanson's proposed "basic services" bill would not regulate rates but call for disclosure of the terms and conditions of customer contracts, which the 8th Circuit said it would allow. The idea, Swanson said, is to make the terms "clear and meaningful" and not bury them in the fine print. Such a law is unnecessary, says Mike McDermott, executive director of state public policy for Verizon Wireless, since Minnesota already has laws to enforce contracts while many carriers make full disclosures in writing and verbally. On price-gouging, Swanson said she wants to prevent it during gasoline or food emergencies when "there is no cost justification" despite the fact that the Minnesota AAA questions the need for regulation. Swanson's proposed utility regulation would revive a Depression-era federal law preventing utility holding companies from inflating rates to consumers. That law was repealed in 2005.

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