This week's Senate review by Senator Al McAffrey

Fighting for Consumer Rights
When consumers buy a product in Oklahoma, they expect that product to work. If it does not work, they expect things to be made right. And when consumers pay extra money and sign a contract that clearly states the item they just bought will be fixed if it breaks, then they assume they have purchased insurance. Although this seems pretty simple, this basic concept was too complicated for Senate Republicans this week.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma State Senate passed SB 1475, the Service Warranty Act, by a vote of 31–15 after a vigorous debate. I voiced my strong opposition to the bill on the Senate floor and was proud to cast a “No” vote, joining fourteen of my colleagues in an effort to give Oklahoma consumers—particularly car buyers—a fair shake in the stores, on the car lots, and in the courts. By voting against SB 1475, I stood up for Oklahoma consumers and against the special interests that have aggressively pushed for this legislation this session. I hope that enough like-minded members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives will have the courage to put a stop to what the Senate Republicans did on Tuesday, and I urge Gov. Mary Fallin to veto the bill if it reaches her desk.
The Service Warranty Act might sound harmless enough, but its real purpose is to close the courthouse door on ordinary Oklahomans when they are taken advantage of by a service-contract company. This happens far too often in Oklahoma, and the Service Warranty Act is going to let them keep getting away with it.
Service contracts are commonly purchased along with household goods and appliances, as well as with larger items such as automobiles. The customer pays money to enter into the service contract, and in exchange for their hard-earned dollars they obtain coverage in case something goes wrong with the product. In other words the company providing the service contract assumes the risk that the product might be defective, and it promises to pay the consumer if it is. These agreements might be called service contracts, but they work exactly like insurance.
Last year, the justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed, siding with a car buyer whose service-contract provider refused to pay after his vehicle broke down. The Oklahoma Supreme Court said that the car buyer had essentially purchased insurance on his car, and the company’s refusal to pay could be considered by law as an act of bad faith that could make the consumer entitled to an award of significant punitive damages by a jury.
By passing the Service Warranty Act, the Senate Republicans are trying to undo the work of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which issued a soundly written, common-sense opinion. If something looks and acts like insurance, then it is insurance, no matter what label some corporation tries to place on it.
The Service Warranty Act is yet another example of Oklahoma Republicans standing up for big business and special interests at the expense of average, working Oklahomans. The Act places strict limits on the amount that a consumer could recover from a service-contract company if the consumer tries to take the company to court. Although the bill’s sponsor insisted that the Service Warranty Act was not taking any rights away from Oklahomans, that’s simply not true. Our state Supreme Court recognized a valuable right of Oklahomans to recover from these companies when they have been wronged. This bill strips that right away from them, and you don’t need a lawyer to tell you that.
I appreciate my Senate colleagues who joined me in opposing this bill. Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, along with Senators Richard Lerblance, Jim Wilson, and Tom Adelson, all made particularly powerful points during the debate against the bill. I also want to extend a special thanks to Senator Steve Russell, my Republican colleague who crossed the aisle to vote against the bill. He reminded us that the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution preserves the right of all citizens to a trial by a jury of their peers in civil matters. That right is absolute. There are no ifs, sort-ofs, or maybes in the Bill of Rights. And the Oklahoma Constitution recognizes that right as well. The word that document uses is “inviolate.” It does not get any clearer than that. Senate Bill 1475 is not just bad policy: it is unconstitutional as well.
If you have any questions or comments, I can be reached by email at or by phone at (405) 521-5610. You can also write me: Senator Al McAffrey, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 533, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.