ASSEMBLY, No. 728

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

214th LEGISLATURE

 

PRE-FILED FOR INTRODUCTION IN THE 2010 SESSION

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblyman  SAMUEL D. THOMPSON

District 13 (Middlesex and Monmouth)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Assemblywomen Handlin and Vainieri Huttle

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Establishes Office of Airline Consumer Advocate and consumer bill of rights for airline passengers.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     Introduced Pending Technical Review by Legislative Counsel

  


An Act establishing an Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate and a consumer bill of rights for airline passengers, and supplementing Title 52 and Title 56 of the Revised Statutes.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    The Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate is established in the Division of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Law and Public Safety.

 

     2.    The director of the Division of Consumer Affairs shall designate one or more employees of the division to serve in that office.  The director shall designate an “Airline Consumer Advocate” and shall provide for the organization of the office.

 

     3.    The office shall, in addition to other powers and duties, vested in it by this act, or any other law:

     a.     Assist consumers in resolving problems with airline carriers, such as those dealing with reservations, delayed flights, “overbooking,” and related matters;

     b.    Identify those areas in which consumers have recurrent problems in dealings with carriers;

     c.     Propose solutions, including administrative changes to practices and procedures of the carrier or airport;

     d.    Preserve and protect the rights of the consumer;

     e.     Promote open and direct communications; and

     f.     In conjunction with appropriate staff of the Division of Consumer Affairs, initiate, investigate, attempt to resolve, and if necessary refer to the division or the Attorney General any matters or complaints received pursuant to this act.

 

     4.    As used in sections 5 through 10 of this act:

     "Aircraft" means any contrivance for passenger flight in the air.

     "Airport" means any landing area used by aircraft for receiving or discharging passengers, equipped with a control tower, hangars, aircraft maintenance and refueling facilities, and accommodations for passenger and cargo.

     "Carrier" means any partnership, corporation, or other business entity regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration that conducts scheduled passenger air transportation.

     "Division" means the Division of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Law and Public Safety.

 

     5.    The following basic expectations and guarantees of health, safety, and welfare are established as a consumer bill of rights for airline passengers:

     a.     Whenever airline passengers have boarded an aircraft and are delayed more than three hours on the aircraft prior to takeoff, the carrier shall ensure that passengers are provided, as needed, with:

     (1)   electric generation service to provide temporary power for fresh air and lights;  

     (2)   waste removal service in order to service the holding tanks for on-board restrooms; and

     (3)   adequate food and drinking water and other refreshments.

     b.    All carriers shall provide clear and conspicuous notice on consumer complaint contact information by providing forms or causing signs to be posted, or both.  The signs are to be posted or forms made available at all respective carrier service desks and other appropriate areas as necessary in an airport.  The forms or signs, as the case may be, shall be of such form and provide such information as the airline consumer advocate shall prescribe, including, but not limited to, the following:

     (1)   a telephone number and mailing address of the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate and the Aviation Consumer Protection Division and the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings of the United States Department of Transportation;

     (2)   explanations of the rights of airline passengers; and

     (3)   basic information on the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate.

 

     6.    The division, in conjunction with the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate, is authorized to initiate, investigate, attempt to resolve, and, if necessary, refer to the Attorney General any matter or complaint received pursuant to section 5 of this act.

 

     7.    Any complaints regarding violations of section 5 of P.L.     , c.   (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) shall first be filed with the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate established by section 1 of P.L.    , c.    (C.       )(pending before the Legislature as this bill) who may, on behalf of the division and in conjunction with other staff of the division, conduct an investigation and may request in writing the production of documents and records as part of its investigation.  Trade secrets and proprietary business information contained in the documents or records received by the division pursuant to a written request or a subpoena are confidential and shall not be deemed a “record” under section 1 of  P.L.1995,c. 23 (C.47:1A-1.1 et seq.)

     If the person upon whom such request was made fails to produce the documents or records within 30 days after the date of the request, the division may issue and serve subpoenas to compel the production of those documents and records.  If any person refuses to comply with a subpoena issued under this section, the division may petition the Superior Court to enforce the subpoena by means of such sanctions as the court may direct.  After completion of the investigation, the division shall either:

     (1)   dismiss the complaint following a determination that no violation occurred; or

     (2)   determine that a violation has likely occurred and, if so, shall attempt to resolve the matter by settlement, which may include a monetary settlement to cover the costs incurred by the division.  If no settlement is achieved, then the division may take further action, including, if necessary, referring the matter to the Attorney General for further proceedings.

     Any records, documents, papers, maps, books, tapes, photographs, files, sounds recordings or other business material, regardless of form or characteristics, obtained by the division pursuant to subpoena shall be confidential.  At the conclusion of an investigation, any matter determined by the division, or by a federal or State judicial or administrative body, to be a trade secret or proprietary confidential business information held by the division pursuant to such investigation shall be considered confidential.  The materials may be used in any administrative or judicial proceeding as long as the confidential or proprietary nature of the material is maintained.

 

     8.    Any person who violates any of the provisions of P.L.    , c.    (C.      ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) shall be subject to a civil penalty of no more than $1,000 for each violation; provided, however, that for a violation of section 5 of P.L.    , c.   (C.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) the civil penalty shall not exceed $1,000 per passenger.  Any such penalty shall take into consideration any compensation paid or offered by the carrier to passengers.  The penalty prescribed in this section shall be collected  and enforced by summary proceedings pursuant to the “Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999," P.L.1999, c.274 (C.2A:58-10 et seq.).  The Superior Court shall have jurisdiction of proceedings for the enforcement of the penalty provided by this section.  Process shall be in the nature of a summons or warrant which shall issue upon the complaint of the Attorney General or any other person.

 

     9.    The annual report issued by the Department of Law and Public Safety shall include a summary of the activities of the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate.  The report shall contain full and substantive analysis, in addition to statistical information, and shall:

     a.     Identify the initiatives the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate has taken to improve airline services;

     b.    Contain a summary of the most serious problems encountered by customers, including a description of the nature of such problems;

     c.     Contain an inventory of the items described in subsections a. and b. of this section for which action has been taken and the status and results of those actions, and an inventory of items for which no action has been taken, and the reasons therefor;

     d.    Contain recommendations for legislative or administrative proposals as may be appropriate to resolve problems encountered by airline consumers; and

     e.     Include such other information as the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate, the division, and the department may deem advisable.

 

     10.  Nothing in this act shall be construed as requiring any carrier, airport or other entity to take any action in contravention of any written directive of the Federal Aviation Administration or other federal agency having jurisdiction over such entity.

 

     11.  This act shall take effect on the first day of sixth month after enactment, but the Division of Consumer Affairs may take such anticipatory administrative action in advance as shall be necessary for the implementation of the act.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill establishes a consumer bill of rights for airline passengers and creates an Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate in the Division of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Law and Public Safety to protect the rights of airline passengers.

     The bill of rights provides that airline passengers on board a scheduled aircraft for more than three hours must be provided with electric generation service to provide temporary power for fresh air and lights, waste removal service in order to service holding tanks for on-board restrooms, and adequate food and drinking water and other refreshments.  The air carrier must also provide consumer complaint contact information so that airline passengers may contact State and federal aviation agencies, including the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate.

     The Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate is authorized to receive consumer complaints and to propose solutions and, in conjunction with the staff of the Division of Consumer Affairs, to initiate, investigate, attempt to resolve, and if necessary refer matters to the Attorney General.  The Division of Consumer Affairs may issue subpoenas for materials and the Attorney General may conduct further proceedings, including bringing legal action.

     The Attorney General or any other person may bring an action before Superior Court to impose a civil penalty not exceeding $1,000 per violation for violation of this bill, except that in the case of a violation of the "bill of rights" the penalty shall not exceed $1,000 per passenger.

     The Department of Law and Public Safety is to include in its annual report a summary of the activities of the Office of the Airline Consumer Advocate.