SACRAMENTO — In a major victory for consumers, Gov. George Deukmejian has signed legislation requiring retailers, cable television companies and utilities to arrange a four-hour period to deliver their goods or services and allow customers to sue if the company does not fulfill its obligation, the governor's office announced Saturday.
The measure, by Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) has been described by a Consumers Union representative as "the most important bill" for consumers this year.
Deukmejian, plowing through hundreds of bills sent to him by the Legislature in the closing hours of the 1989 session, also signed legislation increasing unemployment benefits and a measure to help local school districts reduce the size of high school classes.
Toxic Waste Bill Vetoed
The Republican chief executive vetoed a bill that would have stopped toxic waste disposers with a history of permit violations from getting new permits from the state.
The Lockyer measure, known as the "home delivery bill," arose out of a complaint from a constituent who missed five days of work waiting for the cable television company to connect its service. Each day, Lockyer said, the woman was told that the wiring would be installed the next day.
Lockyer said the woman's experience was an extreme example of something that irks consumers all across the state: they make special arrangements to be home to accept a new appliance or to have a utility service connected only to have the company arrive hours late, if at all.
Individual consumers who lose wages or incur other expenses under such circumstances have little recourse against major corporations, Lockyer argued, so it makes sense for the state to intervene on behalf of the "little guy."
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will require retailers with more than 25 employees, cable television companies and utilities to agree in advance with the consumer on a four-hour period during which their goods or services will be delivered. If the consumer is home and the company fails to make good on its promise, the customer will be able to sue in small claims court for damages of up to $500.
The bill also requires utilities and cable companies to notify subscribers, either at the time a service connection or repair is requested or by mail three times a year, of their right to have service or connections performed within a four-hour period.
Lockyer said Saturday his measure is the first of its kind in the country and that other states, riding a wave of consumer dissatisfaction, may enact similar laws.
"The level of service received by typical consumers is inadequate," he said. "Most companies, in most instances, provide acceptable service. But the number of instances of very poor service is much larger than should be tolerated."
The measure provides exceptions for delays caused by "unforeseen or unavoidable" circumstances beyond the control of the retailer or utility, as long as the company makes a diligent attempt to notify the customer of the delay.
Deukmejian's office on Saturday also announced that the governor had:
* Signed legislation by Sen. David Roberti (D-Los Angeles) to increase the maximum unemployment insurance benefits from $166 weekly to $230, with the increases phased in through 1992. The minimum compensation will increase from $30 weekly to $40 on Jan. 1, 1990. The increase will be the first since Deukmejian took office in 1983, and it is coupled with changes in the system to decrease the cost of unemployment insurance for employers.
* Signed a bill by Sen. Becky Morgan (R-Los Altos Hills) to give financial incentives to school districts that reduce the size of high school classes for math, science, English and social studies to no more than 20 students. The bill allots up to $75 million to reduce class sizes and another $35 million for special programs in grades one through three.
* Vetoed legislation by Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) to prohibit hazardous waste disposal companies with a history of permit violations from obtaining new permits. Deukmejian said he preferred to leave such decisions to the discretion of the state Health Services Department and said that a "rigid application of the law would seriously impede the ability of the department to regulate in an effective and equitable manner."
* Vetoed a bill by Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-South San Francisco) that would have required the state Judicial Council to develop and provide a fact sheet to county clerks on the rights and obligations of marriage partners. The fact sheet would have been distributed to all couples applying for a marriage license. In his veto message, the governor said he was "not convinced that the benefits of such a fact sheet" would be worth the $34,000 it would cost the state to develop it.
* Signed a measure by Assemblyman William J. Filante (R-Greenbrae) to require all new buildings constructed after Jan. 1, 1992, to have toilets that use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Many toilets today use 3.5 gallons.
Times staff writers Virginia Ellis and Ralph Frammolino contributed to this story.