The first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens—not only from foreign and domestic threats to our nation’s security, but also from crime, unsafe products, and unscrupulous business practices.
Keeping Minnesotans safe means a commitment to consumer protection. Consumers deserve products that have been tested and meet strong health and safety standards. However, as global commerce has increased, public concern has grown over the safety of many products imported from abroad, whether they are toys or charm bracelets, seafood or pet food, or tires or toothpaste. We need to ensure that the agencies responsible for protecting consumers—such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration—have the necessary authority and resources to perform their important duties.
In addition to keeping unsafe products off our shores and out of our stores, we must also remain vigilant in rooting out fraudulent or deceptive practices that impact family pocketbooks, especially when consumers are more vulnerable during crises like the coronavirus pandemic. Our financial and telecommunications markets have undergone rapid changes in recent years. The housing market saw the emergence of predatory lenders that offered risky loans to homeowners and evaded the traditional financial safeguards meant to protect consumers. And the increasing integration of wireless and internet technologies into our lives has resulted in growing concerns over billing, privacy, and security.
There has also been a rise in major data breaches that have exposed the personal information of millions of consumers. The changing nature of technology and increased availability of data have created new opportunities for hackers to commit cyberattacks and steal sensitive information from consumers, companies, and the government. We need better methods for detecting breaches and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.
As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I will continue to focus on these priorities:
- Protecting consumers from unsafe products. Americans should be able to trust that the products they buy are safe. Consumers deserve products that have been tested and meet strong health and safety standards. On the Senate Commerce Committee, I am fighting to make sure that the federal agencies charged with keeping Americans safe are being vigilant in doing their job to protect all American consumers from hazardous products.
- Ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply. Over the past years, we have seen outbreaks from contaminated pistachios, peanut butter, spinach, apples, peppers, and lettuce. These incidents have highlighted the need to reexamine our food safety laws and procedures to ensure we maintain a food supply with the highest safety standards.
- Reining in financial recklessness. Greed in the financial system, unscrupulous business practices, and government decisions that favor those at the top have made it harder and harder for families and small businesses to get ahead. We need to be vigilant to make sure that markets are working for consumers, not against them. This is particularly important during times of crisis when some have sought to take advantage of consumers by charging excessive prices for everyday products that people need.
- Enhancing online consumer privacy and going after cybercrimes and hacking. More and more Americans rely on the internet to shop, pay their bills, and connect with family and friends. At the same time, online sites and advertisers have become even more sophisticated at tracking and gathering information about our online behavior. Consumers’ privacy is not protected, and cybersecurity breaches have affected businesses and consumers across the country.
- Promoting competition. Every day, consumers rely on competitive markets to keep prices low and the quality of goods and services high. As the Chair of the Judiciary Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights Subcommittee, I am working to ensure that consumers benefit from robust competition. Whether it’s scrutinizing mergers or calling out anticompetitive practices by pharmaceutical companies that result in high prices for prescription drugs, we need to make sure that our nation’s competition laws are being enforced for the benefit of consumers.
- Protecting access to a free and open internet. The internet has provided Americans with tremendous economic opportunities, and net neutrality is the bedrock of a fair, fast, and open internet. It holds large internet service providers accountable for providing the internet access consumers expect, while protecting innovation and competition. The repeal of net neutrality protections has left consumers vulnerable to higher prices, slower internet traffic, and blocked websites. I am fighting to protect net neutrality so that everyone—including our small businesses and consumers in rural areas—has equal access to the internet.
- Defending consumer rights in the cell phone marketplace. Cell phones are an integral part of the way we communicate—and for many people, the only phones or computing devices they own. Consumers often feel that cell phone companies have the upper hand, writing restrictive contracts with punitive and confusing provisions—from early termination fees to inconsistent coverage information to deceptive billing practices to cell phone unlocking restrictions. We must level the playing field with wireless companies to enable consumers to make the best choice that fits their individual needs. Additionally, we need to ensure that wireless companies are looking out for consumer safety, including addressing cell phone theft accompanied by violence.
- Protecting consumer transportation. Americans deserve to travel safely and trust that our transportation safety system meets the highest safety standards. Whether driving in a car or traveling by airplane, consumers must be protected in all modes of transportation. With the evolution of technology, we must protect consumers’ driver privacy and improve the recall notice process, including by ensuring that the new ridesharing app companies keep their consumers informed. Additionally, we must put passengers first and ensure that they have the rights they deserve.
As Minnesota’s U.S. senator, I’ve been fighting to strengthen our commitment to consumer protection:
- Passing the most sweeping reform of our consumer product safety laws in decades. I worked with my colleagues to draft and pass the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) to give the Consumer Product Safety Commission additional authority, resources, and staff to enforce consumer protection laws. The law contains three important provisions I wrote:
- The first bans lead in children's products. Believe it or not, until the law was enacted, there had been no mandatory federal lead standard for children's products.
- The second provision requires companies to stamp “batch numbers” on children’s products and their packaging, so that parents can quickly identify when products in their homes have been recalled by the government for safety reasons.
- The third bans industry-paid travel by members and staff of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Consumers must have confidence that their consumer regulators are free of influence from the industries they supervise.
- Passing a new law to protect children from unsafe swimming pools. In December 2007, bipartisan legislation that I helped write to improve the safety of our nation's public swimming pools was signed into law. I took a personal interest in the issue of dangerous swimming pool drains after a horrific incident in the summer of 2007, when six-year-old Abigail Taylor of Edina, Minnesota, was severely maimed by the powerful suction of a wading pool drain. After months of surgeries and hospital care, Abigail tragically died of complications from those injuries. It turns out this was not an isolated incident. Government statistics show dozens of cases in which children were injured or trapped by the powerful suction of these pool drains. Yet legislation to correct the problem had been stalled in Congress for years. After consulting with the Taylor family and national child safety experts, I wrote two crucial amendments to the pool safety legislation that had been pending before Congress for years. One made tough new safety standards retroactive to existing pools that are intended for public use and the other required public pools with single drains to install the latest drain safety technology. Both amendments were included in the final bill. One of my proudest moments as a senator was the night I called Abigail's father, Scott Taylor, to tell him we had adopted the legislation and that the president was signing it into law.
- Modernizing our nation’s food safety standards. I was an original cosponsor of the bipartisan FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in January 2011. This law overhauls the nation’s food safety system and strengthens the FDA’s capacity to detect and respond to outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. It increased FDA inspections at all food facilities and gave the FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall of contaminated food products. The law also included a bipartisan provision I authored with former Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) that improves federal, state, and local officials’ ability to investigate outbreaks. The provision promotes a more rapid and effective national response to outbreaks of food-borne illness.
- Protecting consumers from toxic substances. Since I first arrived in the Senate, I have been fighting to protect Minnesotans from products that are hazardous to their health and jeopardize their safety.
- Reforming our nation’s toxic chemicals policy. I cosponsored the Senate bill to update the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Signed into law in June 2016, this legislation was the first major update to our country’s primary law regulating the production and use of chemicals in four decades. I continue to support reforms that will keep our children and families safe from toxic substances while providing businesses clear standards for developing new products.
- Protecting consumers from unsafe wood imports and supporting our timber producers. Along with Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, I authored the bipartisan Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Act, which was signed into law in 2009. This law protects consumers from potentially hazardous levels of formaldehyde in composite wood products and ensures that the U.S. timber industry is on a level playing field with foreign competitors.
- Preventing carbon monoxide deaths. Known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide poisoning results in the deaths of an estimated 500 Americans each year. I have been working to strengthen standards for carbon monoxide alarms and increase safeguards for portable gas-powered generators to prevent deaths and injuries from carbon monoxide poisoning. My work on this issue has been inspired in part by Cheryl Burt of Rochester, Minnesota, whose two young sons (ages 16 months and four years) died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a malfunctioning furnace in 1996. While this legislation passed the Senate in December 2020, it did not pass the House, and I will continue working to get it done in 2021. I am committed to ensuring that families are better protected from carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Portable fuel containers. Under current safety standards, flammable or combustible liquids can ignite within their containers, causing more than 160,000 fires and injuring nearly 4,000 people each year. While flame arrestors can help prevent these accidents, there is no requirement for flame arrestors to be used in the types of containers found in most homes, schools, and campsites. I introduced the bipartisan Portable Fuel Container Safety Act with Senator Jerry Moran to direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to make sure that all consumer portable fuel containers have flame arrestors. Our bill was signed into law in December 2020.
- Protecting children from unsafe products. As a member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, I have consistently fought to protect consumers, especially children, from unsafe products.
- IKEA recall. In February 2016, Ted McGee, a 22-month-old from Apple Valley, Minnesota, was killed by a falling IKEA Malm dresser. That same model dresser had previously killed or injured other children after tipping over, but IKEA was still selling the dressers and there was little information available about the danger. I urged the CPSC and IKEA to take strong and definitive action to prevent future injuries and deaths from tip-overs of the Malm dresser. CPSC and IKEA later announced the largest furniture recall in U.S. history, agreed to stop sales of the dresser, and offered a full refund to consumers who had purchased Malm dressers. Following reports of the eighth death from a Malm tip-over in 2017, I renewed calls to the CPSC and IKEA to take action to protect children from dangerous furniture, and in November 2017, CPSC and IKEA relaunched the dresser recall.
- Window blinds. According to data from the CPSC, nearly every month a child dies after becoming tangled in an exposed window cord. I pushed the Window Covering Manufacturers Association (WCMA) to take advantage of new technologies and implement the strongest possible child safety protections. In June 2016, WCMA announced that it would update the voluntary safety standard for window coverings to eliminate exposed cords from virtually all window coverings and improve safety for children.
- Baby food. A February 2021 report released by the House Oversight Committee found that baby food produced by top brands contained dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals. Since consumption of these toxic heavy metals can have lifelong impacts on a baby’s health and neurological development, I worked to introduce legislation in March 2021 that would put standards and timelines in place to make sure baby food is free from these toxic heavy metals and pushed the FDA to take steps to address these toxic heavy metals through enforcement of existing authorities and implementation of new rules.
- Protecting consumers from accidental injuries and death during the coronavirus pandemic. I introduced the bipartisan COVID-19 Home Safety Act with Senator Moran to protect consumers from injuries and deaths related to consumer products during the coronavirus pandemic. Reports indicated that pediatricians and emergency room doctors had seen an increase in patients seeking treatment for home injuries, such as broken bones on bikes and trampolines as well as accidental hand sanitizer poisoning in children. This legislation will help protect our children, seniors, and other vulnerable populations from injuries and deaths caused by consumer products during and after the pandemic. While our bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee in November 2020, we are continuing to work to get it signed into law.
- Putting Main Street ahead of Wall Street. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 that cost millions of Americans their jobs, homes, and savings, I fought for comprehensive reform in the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This bill contained a number of provisions designed to protect consumers and restore transparency. Those measures included efforts to monitor and address systemic risk, increase accountability at financial firms, and reform the complex derivatives markets. To shield consumers from unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices, the bill created the independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The final bill also included two amendments I co-authored to protect homebuyers from predatory lending practices, and to preserve the Federal Reserve’s authority to supervise community banks to ensure that the institution charged with our nation’s monetary policy has a connection to Main Street.
- Reining in financial recklessness. We need to be vigilant to make sure that markets are working for consumers, not against them. This is particularly important during times of crisis when some have sought to take advantage of consumers by charging excessive prices for everyday products that people need. Soon after we started seeing this type of price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic, I introduced a bill with Senators Blumenthal, Hirono, and Cortez Masto to prohibit these practices and help ensure that people are not taken advantage of during emergencies. I have also called on the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to ensure that they are doing everything in their power under existing law to stop unconscionable price gouging during the pandemic. In addition, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and I have worked together to highlight the need to protect consumers from price gouging during this public health crisis.
- Internet and telecommunications consumer protections. As a member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, I have been leading the fight to protect consumers’ online privacy and rights, especially against fraud and online content that can lead to real-world harm.
- Enhancing online consumer privacy and cybersecurity. Companies continue to profit off of the personal data they collect from Americans, but they leave consumers completely in the dark about how their personal information is being used. Consumers have a right to know if their personal data is being sold and to easily see what data has already been distributed. That’s why I introduced comprehensive privacy legislation with Senators Cantwell, Schatz, and Markey to establish digital rules of the road for companies, ensure that consumers have the right to access and control how their personal data is being used, and give the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general the tools they need to hold Big Tech companies accountable. I have also introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana to protect the privacy of consumers’ online data by ensuring that companies use plain language to explain to consumers how their data is being used, allowing consumers to opt out of certain data tracking and collection, and requiring companies to notify consumers of privacy violations within 72 hours of a breach. In addition, I have worked to provide the Department of Defense, intelligence community, and our law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to strengthen our cybersecurity and have called on investigations of breaches to ensure that we have the information we need to protect consumers from future breaches. After receiving alarming reports that our federal government websites were rendered unsecure during the 2019 government shutdown, I called on the White House to make sure that our federal government websites and online infrastructure remain secure in the event of a future shutdown or appropriations lapse. I will continue to advocate for measures that ensure consumer confidence in online privacy and the security of information.
- Ensuring equal access to the internet. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted strong net neutrality rules based on Title II of the Communications Act, allowing people to share and access the internet without interference. These critical protections give our small businesses and entrepreneurs equal access to set up their businesses and compete online, and they give consumers equal access to online markets regardless of where they live. Despite the millions of comments from the American people asking the FCC to protect an open and fair internet, the FCC voted in December of 2017 to end net neutrality protections. This means that internet service providers could block, slow, and prioritize online traffic. I will continue to fight to protect net neutrality rules and have joined legislation to reinstate them.
- Protecting wireless consumers. I introduced the Wireless Consumer Choice Act to require carriers to unlock mobile devices for consumers so that they can switch networks and carriers if they choose and take their device with them. I also introduced the Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act to help cell phone customers make informed choices about wireless service that best fits their budget. This includes requiring cell phone companies to prorate early termination fees so that consumers have greater freedom to change companies. I’ve called on the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on deceptive billing practices, such as “cramming,” in both landline and wireless bills, and I have also cosponsored legislation to address these practices. In addition, I introduced the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act, which would require the wireless industry to move forward with installing “kill switch” technology on all smartphones that will protect consumer data on the phone and allow consumers to render the device inoperable if the phone is stolen. In response to this bill, many wireless carriers and manufacturers have made kill switch technology available.
- Improving rural service. To combat persistent phone call completion problems in rural areas, I introduced the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act. This bill requires the Federal Communications Commission to establish basic quality standards for providers that transmit voice calls to help ensure that businesses, families, and emergency responders can count on phone calls being completed. This bill was signed into law in 2018.
- Stopping online fraud. Online booking sites have created a marketplace where consumers can shop for hotels across thousands of brands on a single platform. While online travel agencies serve an important role in promoting consumer choice and competition for hotel and airline bookings, the rise of online booking has brought with it an increase in online booking scams. For example, some fraudulent websites give the appearance of being connected to a hotel, but actually have no relationship with them. Transactions on these sites can result in unnecessarily complicated travel itineraries, incorrect travel information, and hidden fees. That’s why I joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the Stop Online Booking Scams Act. This bill would protect consumers from illegitimate third-party websites that trick consumers into thinking they are making reservations directly with hotels. I also worked to include an amendment in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law in October 2018, requiring increased disclosures from online travel agencies. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, I will continue to be a leader in the fight to protect consumers from deceptive practices by fraudulent online travel booking websites.
- Preventing ticket fraud and protecting competition in ticketing. While the event ticket marketplace has grown more sophisticated through the use of secure online distribution channels and ticket technology, many ticket buyers can still be victims of fraud. That’s why I cosponsored the bipartisan Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, signed into law in December 2016. The law prohibits the use of ticket bots and other online measures to deliberately circumvent security protocols that limit or restrict online ticket purchases. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I will continue to be a leader in protecting consumers from ticket bots. I also called on the Justice Department to investigate the state of competition in the online ticketing marketplace following reports that Live Nation was not complying with the consent decree that allowed it to merge with Ticketmaster. After I and others raised these concerns, the Department went to court to force Live Nation to extend the terms of the decree for an additional five and a half years and to impose additional monitoring requirements and penalty provisions to prevent future noncompliance. This was a victory for ticketing competition and consumers.
- Inappropriate content. I introduced the PROTECT Our Children Act with a bipartisan group of senators to reauthorize the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program, a national network of coordinated task forces representing 3,500 federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies that combat technology-facilitated child exploitation across the country. That legislation was signed into law in November 2017. I also cosponsored the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, which was passed into law to help parents protect their children from inappropriate website content. It requires the Federal Trade Commission to implement a national educational campaign to promote the safe use of the internet by children and directs the U.S. Commerce Department to create a private-sector working group to evaluate industry efforts to promote online safety. In addition, I support V-Chip, internet filters, and other new technologies that give parents greater control over what their kids see on television and what they can do on the internet. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee, I will continue to fight for additional protections to safeguard children against online predators. I am also working to hold Big Tech companies accountable for inappropriate content that can lead to real-life effects on our safety and civil rights, as well as on our democracy, while also ensuring that freedom of speech is maintained and innovation can flourish. That’s why I was a cosponsor of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), signed into law in 2018, to help stop online sex trafficking and provide justice to victims. This Congress, I joined Senators Warner, Hirono, and Kaine in introducing the Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism and Consumer Harms (SAFE TECH) Act to require social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyberstalking and civil rights violations, targeted harassment, and discrimination on their platforms. I will continue working to ensure that we hold these Big Tech companies accountable for the content that can lead to real-world harm.
- Protecting consumer transportation. As a member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Maritime, Freight, and Ports and the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation, I have worked to improve transportation and vehicle safety, protect consumers against vehicle fraud, and ensure the data privacy of drivers.
- Improving vehicle safety. Vehicle safety recalls involving General Motors (GM) and the Takata Corporation weaken the American public’s trust in the safety of vehicles. We must ensure that vehicle safety defect complaints from consumers are thoroughly investigated and that recalls are issued promptly and widely when necessary. Americans deserve to be informed immediately when a vehicle safety defect is discovered. That is why I cosponsored the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act, which would encourage employees from the automotive sector to voluntarily provide information about safety defects to the U.S. Department of Transportation so that defects can be identified sooner and lives can be saved. We have a responsibility to protect public safety, and to do that we must restore the public’s trust in automakers and their suppliers.
- Protecting passengers from recalled vehicles. Following the release of a report finding that 1 out of 6 vehicles registered to Uber and Lyft drivers have at least one unfixed safety recall often including defective airbags, I led a letter in June 2019 pressing the CEOs of Uber and Lyft for information over the continued use of vehicles with open safety recalls. In September 2019, I urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to take action to help ensure that American drivers and passengers are informed about Uber and Lyft drivers transporting customers with open safety recalls. In February, I introduced the Safe RIDE Act with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut to require the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), in consultation with NHTSA, to conduct a comprehensive study on the Uber and Lyft vehicles with open safety recalls and to report on ways to make recall notices more effective and easier for all consumers to understand. I will continue working to make sure this important legislation is signed into law.
- Protecting automobile consumers from fraud. Volkswagen willfully deceived regulators and the public to artificially lower emissions of its 2009-2015 Volkswagen and Audi diesel vehicles. Volkswagen installed a “defeat device” on nearly 500,000 of these vehicles that hid levels of nitrogen oxides as high as 40 times that of allowable U.S. emissions standards. Volkswagen’s misrepresentations, which harmed public health, polluted our air, and deceived American consumers, demanded a quick response. First, I urged the company to issue a recall that was comprehensive and covered all affected models and years, execute a robust public awareness campaign, and develop a process through which customers could be compensated for the costs of reduced fuel economy and lower resale values. Second, I took to the Senate floor to urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to explain why its emission standards approval process did not detect this deceptive software. After my call to action, the EPA announced changes to its diesel emissions testing process to make them more foolproof. Third, along with Senator Blumenthal, I called on the Department of Justice to hold Volkswagen responsible for its dishonest conduct. Volkswagen ultimately paid $14.7 billion to compensate consumers and to address the pollution caused by its vehicles.
- Protecting drivers’ privacy. I authored the Driver Privacy Act in 2014 and 2015 along with Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota to make clear that the owner of the vehicle is the rightful owner of the data collected by a vehicle’s event data recorder (EDR). An EDR temporarily stores data from the vehicle’s safety systems following a crash. While EDRs provide important data that can be used to better protect passengers, we need to ensure consumers’ privacy is being protected. The Driver Privacy Act was included in the long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill that was passed into law in December 2015.
- Strengthening aviation safety standards. After two deadly crashes of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft killed 346 people, including one man from St. Cloud, Minnesota, I cosponsored legislation with my colleagues to prohibit aircraft manufacturers like Boeing from charging airlines additional fees for safety-enhancing equipment. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I also questioned senior Boeing officials about the crashes and the issues that must be addressed in the commercial aviation industry to prevent more tragedies in the future. I also introduced the bipartisan Aviation Safety Enhancement Act to toughen airline safety rules and to bring an end to the cozy relationship that has developed between airlines and some federal regulators. A number of the important provisions from this bill were included in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act signed into law in February 2012. With the support of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, I have also pushed the Federal Aviation Administration to issue much-needed updates to airline safety standards to combat pilot fatigue. Updated standards went into effect in January 2014 for passenger pilots, and I’m pushing to ensure the same standards are put in place for cargo pilots as well.
- Implementing a passenger bill of rights. I was a cosponsor of the Passenger Bill of Rights, which requires airlines to provide passengers with food, water, and adequate restrooms during a tarmac delay. This bill was signed into law as a part of the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act. The law also set a limit of three hours for how long a plane can sit on the ground with passengers aboard. In response to this legislation, the Department of Transportation put in place rules in 2010 that limit tarmac delays to three hours. The new rules have led to a dramatic decrease in tarmac delays – in the first year after the three-hour rule went into effect, there were only 20 tarmac delays longer than three hours and none were longer than four hours, compared to over 500 delays of at least three hours in June through August of 2009. In October 2016, the Department of Transportation announced actions to protect air travelers. These new actions built on previous efforts like the Passenger Bill of Rights and will help ensure that consumers have access to more accurate information so they can make informed decisions when choosing a flight. These actions also expand other consumer protections, including passenger refunds for delayed baggage.