Rep. Isaac Choy is at it again, this time with a bill that would amend the state’s public records law to totally remove complaints about those holding state professional and vocational licenses from the public record.
Choy’s bill, HB 1565, is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce on Monday afternoon, February 1, at 2 p.m.
State law currently provides that “record of complaints” about “an individual’s fitness to be granted or to retain a license” is a public record, “including all dispositions.”
Choy’s bill would simply delete this provision from the law, making all information about consumer complaints, including their existence, state secrets.
So what complaints are we talking about?
The state’s Professional and Vocational Licensing office lists the following categories of licensed professionals and activities.
Barbering and Cosmetology
Dentist and Dental Hygienist
Electrician and Plumber
Engineer, Architect, Surveyor and Landscape Architect
Medical and Osteopathy (MD, DO, EMT-Basic, EMT-Paramedic, Physician Assistant, and Podiatrist)
Motor Vehicle Industry
Motor Vehicle Repair
Pharmacy and Pharmacist
Private Detective and Guard
Speech Pathology and Audiology
Cemetery and Pre-Need Funeral Authority
Condominium Property Regimes
Hearing Aid Dealer and Fitter
Marriage and Family Therapist
Mental Health Counselor
Mixed Martial Arts Contests
Nursing Home Administrator
Real Estate Appraiser
Uniform Athlete Agents
You get the idea. Complaints filed against licensees provide an early warning to consumers of possible problems, and are one of the most important types of information used to protect consumers.
These are people who affect many different parts of our lives. Avoiding the occasional “bad apple” is often very important to individual consumers. And tracking how complaints are handled gives us a chance to evaluate how well the government agencies are going their jobs of protecting the public.
Losing access to such information would mark a return to the dark ages, back when consumers had no rights.
Choy has been on this secrecy kick for years, and has repeatedly sought to block the public from information about complaints filed against the service providers we rely on.
I wrote about Choy’s role in passage of a similar (but less sweeping) bill back in 2010 (“Bill to limit consumer’s rights makes last-minute stealth move“).
Here’s what I wrote at that time. The 2010 bill would only have allowed the public to know about a complaint if the complaint were finally upheld by state regulators. Choy’s current bill would block disclosure of any and all information about consumer complaints, even if multiple complaints were found to be valid.
Under current law, information concerning “an individual’s fitness to be granted or to retain a license” is considered private and confidential, except for records of complaints resulting in disciplinary action, and the “record of complaints including all dispositions.”
This bill, in its current form, would strip the “record of complaints” from the public record.
The problem here is that complaints take months, sometimes years to be investigated, so someone can rack up a long list of complaints before the first disciplinary action is finally taken. And a short list of complaints that result in actual disciplinary action may mask a much longer list of outstanding consumer complaints. Under the terms of this bill, the public would be left to fend for themselves without access to this key bit of consumer background.
Testimony on HB1565 can be submitted online. The system requires you to register and create an account in order to submit online testimony. Click here for the instructions for this simple process.