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2005-01-12-Lieberman-Moving companies 

Harrison Weblog

2005 blog


Keeping up with Jewish officeholders

Lieberman calls for greater states' role

in prosecuting moving companies
,  Jan. 12, 2005

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) said today (Wednesday, Jan. 12) interstate moving companies are able to defraud consumers because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is too under-funded to prosecute such matters..  He urged that the attorneys general of the various states be given permission to prosecute these kind of cases.  

A typical case, he said, is when a moving company tells consumers their bill is higher than the estimate that they received, then threaten not to permit unpacking of the goods until the bill is paid.

In a letter to Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawai), respectively the chairman and ranking member of the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Lieberman said:

I am writing to commend you for your ongoing efforts to protect consumers against unscrupulous interstate household moving companies and to urge your continued support for provisions that address this issue when a Transportation Bill equivalent to HR 3550 is introduced this year. 

To illustrate the timeliness of your actions I have attached a letter from the Attorney General of Connecticut: Mr. Richard Blumenthal. He writes that his office is in receipt of many complaints about interstate moving companies. Typically these complaints involve consumers who were given estimates that were not honored and doubled or worse once the moving company packed the goods; the consumer is advised to pay the full amount, or the company will not release the consumer’s household goods.

The federal government has preempted state action against such movers, making it impossible for a State Attorney General to address complaints. Mr. Blumenthal believes that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is the federal agency that is responsible for regulation and enforcement, has been ineffective in dealing with these abuses. It is seriously under funded and thus unable to adequately address consumer complaints.

In his letter, Mr. Blumenthal relates similar experiences by State Attorneys General of many other States. Their position is confirmed by a March, 2001 GAO report: “Consumer Protection – Federal Actions Are Needed to Improve Oversight of the Household Goods Moving Industry”. The report concludes that the activities of the United States Department of Transportation in this area “have been minimal”. The report also states that “Consumer protections have the potential to be enhanced by expanding the States’ role in the regulation of interstate household goods carriers”.

As you know, there are two ways to approach this problem: either adequately charter and fund the FMCSA or authorize the State Attorneys General to pursue these deceptive and devious movers. While the former solution may be difficult to implement in the current budget climate, the latter is contained in several legislative proposals currently pending before the Congress. Recent legislation includes HR 1070, which is supported by the National Association of Attorneys General and both House and Senate versions of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2004 (HR 3550), which – thanks to your efforts – contains language that is even stronger.

Given the interest of Mr. Blumenthal, his colleagues and the people that they serve and assuming that bills with a similar purpose as HR 3550 will be introduced again this legislative year, I would like to ask for your continued efforts to maintain these provisions. You have my full support in enacting them.

I want to thank both of you for your leadership on this issue thus far.

   —Donald H. Harrison