California Will Authorize Higher Fees to Register Weighing and Measuring Devices: Why Are Some Industries Exempt While Others Victimized?

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On Wednesday, April 16, the California State Assembly’s Business, Professions, and Consumer Protection Committee considered Assembly Bill 1623, introduced by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada (D-Vacaville) on behalf of the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association (representing California’s Sealers of Weights and Measures) to increase the maximum fees that counties can charge for registrations of measuring devices used in commerce, such as scales. The bill also established the authority of counties to assess fees for the registration of additional devices.

State law (Business and Professions Code Section 12001 et seq.) authorizes counties to check devices to insure they are accurate when consumers are charged based on weights and measures.

Assemblywoman Yamada and the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association argued that the legislature had not increased the fee caps since 2008 and that the current fee revenues did not fully compensate counties for the cost of administering their programs for ensuring accurate weights and measures. No evidence was cited at the hearing to show the extent of this problem, however.

A few other things bothered me about the hearing and betrayed the fundamental weaknesses of the California State Legislature.

First, Assembly Bill 1623 met with opposition from car rental companies, including Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz. Lobbyists representing these companies claimed that counties rarely checked the odometers of the state’s approximately 300,000 rental cars because most odometers are tamper-proof and because consumers rarely sign contracts to be charged based on mileage. They also claimed that the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association was unable to provide an example of a consumer complaint about faulty odometer measurement in a rental car.

The committee agreed to strike the proposed increase in the maximum device registration fee charged for rental car odometers. That eliminated the formal opposition to the bill, and it passed unanimously.

But who are the other parties who will be stuck with the fee increases? No legislator inquired about them or speculated about the burden such fee increases would have on other industries.

Nor did any legislator ask which industries are most notorious for inaccurate weights and measures, and therefore might deserve a disproportionate burden of the fee increases because of the need for extra government inspection and enforcement of those industries.

Only car rental agencies were exempted, because they had lobbyists with clout opposing the bill unless the committee amended the bill to exempt their devices.

I’m not going to blame the major car rental corporations for hiring lobbyists to get special breaks on paying government fees, but I do blame the legislators (including the committee Republicans) for not seeking more information to determine the effects of the bill.

I guess it’s possible that the members of the Assembly Business, Professions, and Consumer Protection Committee already know the details of Business and Professions Code Section 12001 et seq. and who pays these device fees and which industry is most likely to scam consumers with inaccurate weights and measures, but I doubt it.

A county seal on a Weight Watchers scale.

For example, does Weight Watchers have to pay these fees for each electronic scale it uses? (They are entangled in some way with California regulations for measuring devices.) If so, how much will this Assembly Bill 1623 cost Weight Watchers? Has Weight Watchers ever had a consumer complaint for inaccurate scales that prevented a member from reaching “lifetime goal” and thus becoming exempt from membership fees? If not, why shouldn’t the legislature exempt Weight Watchers from the fee increases?

According to the official committee bill analysis, “The range of weighing and measuring devices included in the registration program currently includes retail fuel dispensing meters; water meters; electric meters that measure electricity that is sub-metered by a mobile home park; apartment complex, or boat dock; liquefied petroleum gas meters or gas vapor meters that are sub-metered; truck scales, cattle scales and grocery counter scales; taxi meters; and a variety of other devices that weigh or meter a commodity offered for sale.”

In addition, the web site for the California’s Sealers of Weights and Measures states that “County Weights and Measures Inspectors inspect and test various types of weighing and measuring devices throughout the county. Examples of some of the types of devices inspected are: gasoline dispensers, propane/butane meters, electric meters, taxi meters, odometers on ambulances, farm milk tanks, pharmacy scales, deli counter scales, livestock scales, concrete batch plant scales, truck scales, etc.”

After the committee approved the bill, Assemblywoman Yamada emphasized that even these authorized fee increases STILL would not be quite enough to pay for the program.

It’s never enough….NEVER ENOUGH. As President Ronald Reagan said in a speech on March 11, 1981 (see video here):

The American taxing structure, the purpose of which was to serve the people, began instead to serve the insatiable appetite of government. If you will forgive me – you know, someone has likened government to a baby. It is an alimentary canal with an appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.

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