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Calif. Legislature Approves Three BHPH Bills

September 04, 2012

SACRAMENTO — Governor Jerry Brown is the final hurdle for three bills aimed at adding new rules governing the state’s buy-here, pay-here (BHPH) dealers. The bills, which passed out of the state Legislature last week, would add additional disclosures, but one would also set one of the nation’s lowest interest rate caps.

Gov. Brown has until Sept. 30 to either sign the bills into law or veto them. Representatives from each of the state legislators said they are hopeful the governor will sign off on the bills, but a spokesman for Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski’s office said the governor has yet to share his opinion on the three measures.

Wieckowski’s (D-Fremont) bill, AB 1534, passed the state Assembly on Thursday by a 44-27 vote. The measure requires BHPH dealers place a window sticker on each used car that shows a vehicle’s suggested market value, which Wieckowski said new-vehicle dealers have done since 1958 under the Automobile Information Act.

“The process of buying a car is already one often filled with anxiety,” Wieckowski said in a press release. “This bill would not dictate the sale price asked by the dealer, but it would help level the playing field by requiring the sticker. This gives the consumers more information as they consider whether or not to purchase a vehicle.

“In these difficult economic times, it’s especially important that consumer protection measures are in place to assist low-income families and our military personnel who are too often victims of predatory practices.”

If signed into law by the governor, AB 1534 will be considered a DMV infraction, which means the Department of Motor Vehicles will need to develop further regulations related to the bill.

The bill that most BHPH dealers fear is Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance)’s bill, SB 956. Approved last week by a 23-14 Senate vote, the measure would set one of the strongest interest rate caps in the nation if it gains Gov. Brown’s signature. Interest rates would be capped at 17 percent, plus a variable interest rate at 0.25 percent.

Lieu’s bill, which seeks to “crack down on predatory dealers,” would also mandate that BHPH operators obtain a California Finance Lender’s license in order to originate vehicle loans.

Regarding the rate cap, Ray Sotero, a spokesperson for Senator Lieu’s office, said the Senator believes existing 30 percent interest rates are outrageous, claiming that BHPH dealers are gouging customers. He said BHPH dealers should still be able to turn a profit under the new law, which Lieu believes will help to improve the reputation of all car dealers.

“Buy-here, pay-here dealers are hurting all car dealers with their practices,” Sotero said. “Among consumers, these car dealers are all painted with the same brush; not everyone (among consumers) can make the distinction that those who are gauging don’t include conventional car dealers.”

Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Torrance)’s bill, AB 1447, was the first of the three bills to be passed by the state Legislature last week. If signed into law, vehicle owners will not be required to make loan payments in person as some BHPH operators require. The bill would also require that BHPH dealers disclose to car buyers when ignition shutdown technology is present within a vehicle. Dealers must also receive written consent from car buyers prior to purchase when an electronic tracking device is installed in a car.

A representative for Feuer’s office explained that if his bill is signed into law, dealers could be subject to periodic audits from the DMV, as well as ramifications from law enforcement if they violate any on of the bill’s provisions.

All three bills were introduced in January following a series of articles critical of BHPH dealers were published late last year in the Los Angeles Times. If allowed by the governor prior to Sept. 30, the laws would take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

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