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March 13, 2014

N.H. House passes bill to protect consumers

N.H. House has a busy day

CONCORD — The New Hampshire House approved some consumer protections for pre-buy fuel customers yesterday.

House Bill 1282 passed on a 226-98 vote without debate.

Dealers would have to register and file an annual report with the Secretary of State, maintain an inventory equal to 75 percent of what is promised under contracts, and obtain a surety bond and letter of credit.

It also would require dealers to reimburse customers for undelivered fuel, at the contract price, within 30 days after the contract ends.

The chairman of the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart’s Location, told lawmakers in a written report it would provide added protection for consumers.

The House vote follows consumer complaints to the state twice this winter about delayed deliveries by one major dealer, Fred Fuller Oil and Propane Co. The company has blamed telephone problems.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction,” Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti said last week.

One of the things Boffetti likes about the bill is a shorter window for pre-buy contracts he said could shorten the consumer risk.

But Boffetti cautioned that consumers aren’t fully protected.

“Can they assume their money will be protected? I would say no,” Boffetti said.

Filings with the Secretary of State are just that, filings.

“There’s no enforcement of that,” Boffetti said. “I’d not assume a lot of consumer protection from that.”

Boffetti acknowledged enforcers may be able to treat false statements in such filings as a deceptive act.

The Senate will next take up the bill.

The House, meanwhile, rejected expanded headlight use after about an hour of debate, 182-151.

House Bill 1601 would have required headlight use from sunset to sunrise and during snow, rain and fog.

State law now mandates headlight use from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise and when visibility is reduced to 1,000 feet or less by weather.

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