By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Lawmakers are trying to stop the so-called “gift that keeps on taking” by passing a bill that would crack down on gift cards sold by businesses in Colorado.
The Colorado Senate Wednesday gave initial approval to Senate Bill 155, which would prohibit businesses from charging fees on gift cards they issue and allow consumers to receive cash back from a business when their card balance goes below $5. Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, the bill’s sponsor, believes the measure would put money back into consumers’ pockets and even the playing field between stores and their customers.
“When you buy a gift card for $25, it should be worth $25,” she said in a statement. “This bill protects Colorado consumers from being charged hidden fees and prevents them from becoming victims.”
But the Colorado Retail Council, the non-profit that represents much of the Colorado retail business community, says the bill’s cash back provision would require expensive accounting measures for local retailers. CRC President Christopher Howes pointed out that gift cards are not ATM cards, and that only two other states — Maine and California — have enacted laws similar to those being proposed by SB 155.
“We just wish the legislators would focus on the weighty issues that are facing them instead of making up an answer to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Howes.
According to the “Wall Street Journal,” unclaimed gift cards amount to roughly $6.8 billion in the United States annually. Gov. Bill Ritter has thrown his support behind Tochtrop’s bill, saying in a statement late last year that “it’s time to stand up for Colorado consumers and put an end to gift card fees and penalties.”
The bill’s House co-sponsor Debbie Benefield, D-Arvada, added that gift cards should be a gift to the person receiving them and not a gift to the retailer.
“This legislation is critical when it comes to protecting Colorado consumers,” she said in a statement last December. “Gift cards are given to our loved ones with the best intentions, and it’s important we make sure they don’t become the gift that keeps on taking.”
However, Howes said that none of the retailers represented by CRC charge so-called hidden fees for issuing gift card or place expiration dates on the cards. He argued that people worried about getting less than $5 back from a gift card, or any of the other provisions addressed by SB 155, should get loved ones cash instead of gift cards. But he added that “most people find gift cards very convenient and they’re wildly popular, so we don’t understand why government is getting involved.”
The Senate will have to approve the bill one more time before the bill is sent to the House. The bill passed on a 4-3 vote out of the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee last week.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters