Assembly Bill 2592 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D. San Francisco) and inspired by a 7 On Your Side investigation passed by a 42-27 vote. Most democrats supported the bill. Republicans mostly opposed it.
The bill would increase fines for unlicensed locksmith activity tenfold to $10,000. It would also place restrictions on misleading ads and require licenses to be prominently displayed.
A 7 On Your Side hidden camera investigation originally aired in February 2007 and uncovered exactly how the scam works.
Consumers locked out of their home call a locksmith desperate for someone to pick the lock. The locksmith pretends the lock is pick proof and then proceeds to drill the lock. The unsuspecting homeowner is then charged as much as $5,000 to replace the lock. Legitimate locksmiths say the normal charge would be $75 to $125.
If the consumer complains about the charge, the locksmith sometimes threatens to leave without replacing the broken lock.
A 7 On Your Side check of locksmiths advertising in the San Francisco phone book found 98 percent of them were unlicensed. Many listed phony addresses or no addresses at all. Many of their phone numbers automatically forwarded to a central call center. Sometimes that call center is as far away as New York.
The bill now goes to the full senate. Nick Hardeman, a spokesman for Assemblywoman Ma, says his office would work with the California Department of Consumer Affairs to gain their support. He says the Department is concerned that some of the provisions in the bill would be too burdensome and impractical to enforce.
He is confident that if that Department can support the bill, the Senate will pass it and the governor will sign it.
We called the Department of Consumer Affairs for comment, but a spokesman says the department cannot comment publicly on any pending legislation.