The 1970s through 1990s
The Department stated in its 1970 annual report: "As the philosophy of ‘consumerism’ grows and spreads...more and more will the individual consumer demand his four basic consumer rights -- the right to safety, the right to be heard, the right to know and the right to free choice."
The 1971 legislature added the federal Child Protection Amendment to Connecticut’s Hazardous Substance Act in order to provide new safeguards against unsafe toys and articles intended for use by children.
By 1972, the Department was actively investigating and responding to thousands of consumer complaints each year. Staff were also busy with enforcement of the brand new Unit Pricing law for Consumer Commodities.
Public Act 55 of the 1972 General Assembly legalized professional boxing in Connecticut, which had been banned since 1965. The first boxing match in Connecticut since 1965 was held in Hartford on August 7, 1973.
In 1973, the Narcotic Control section of the State Department of Health was transferred to the Department, where, it joined the existing Drug Division and the Pharmacy Commission to form the agency’s new Division of Drug Control. Its duties included overseeing pharmacies, pharmacists and technicians, and all controlled substances in the state.
1973 also saw enactment of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, a comprehensive law based on the Federal Trade Commission Act and one of the Department’s strongest consumer protection tools. The Department installed its first toll-free telephone line for consumers, enhancing its ability to serve the people at a time when long distance calls were still considered a luxury.
In 1975, several health and fitness club closings took pre-paid customers by surprise, generating hundreds of complaints, and ultimately leading to new laws governing health clubs. The Department started enforcing the brand new Health Club law, which offered important financial protections to fitness club customers.
By 1979, the Department’s structure included Food, Drug Control, Weights and Measures, Frauds (including Product Safety and Bedding), Education, Athletics, Pharmacy Commission, Board of Television and Radio Service Examiners, Architect Registration, Well Drilling Board, Occupational Licensing Boards (elevator craftsmen, electrical, plumbing and piping, heating and cooling), Accountancy, Landscape Architects, Tree Protection, Professional Engineers, Veterinarian registration, and Real Estate. New laws governing Apartment Listing Services and a definition of "natural foods" were passed and enforced.
In 1981, health risks led to the ban of urea-formaldehyde foam insulation in Connecticut -- one year before the nationwide ban enacted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1982.
In October 1982, Drug Control staff were joined by a good portion of the entire Department to oversee the removal of Tylenol capsules from stores following a nationwide scare in which seven people in the Chicago area died from taking capsules that had somehow been tampered with before they were purchased.
A significant new consumer protection added in 1982 was Connecticut ‘s pioneering law to address warranty problems with new cars. Known as the "Lemon Law,’ this legislation was replicated in states across the country and set the stage for improved protections in subsequent years. In 1984, a second "Lemon Law" gave enforcement powers to the Department and led to the creation of the long-successful Automobile Dispute Settlement Program, which mediates warranty disputes between new car buyers and manufacturers. "Squeezing the Lemon Law," an agency-produced booklet that explained Connecticut’s innovation, received "Best Consumer Publication" award from the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators.
The Health Club Guaranty Fund was created by statute in 1985, and required that a certain portion of all Connecticut health club license fees be allocated to the Fund, to be managed by the Department of Consumer Protection. The agency established a process to provide pro-rated refunds to eligible victims of unexpected and sudden health club closings.
The Drug Control Division was involved in the investigation and arrest of several pharmacists, a physician and a body-building gym for illegal possession or sale of anabolic steroids -- one of the first cases of its type in the country.
As new professions and industries emerged and flourished, the agency was assigned licensing oversight of additional jobs and professional fields. In 1992, the Department created a Central Licensing Division to streamline and automate the agency’s annual issuing of approximately 120,000 licenses and collecting $30 million each year in receipts. By 1995, Central Licensing was processing more than half of the 150,000 licenses issued each year, and the Department continued consolidating all of the agency’s licensing functions into that one division. The Department pursued plans to improve public access to the agency and began discussions about linking the agency to the Information Superhighway, i.e., the Internet.
Much effort was spent to upgrade and modernize the Department’s systems and procedures and to create a strategic business plan which, during its implementation over the next five years, laid the groundwork for many process and technology improvements in the agency. Governor John G. Rowland opened the agency’s new Consumer Action Center on October 2, 1996. A single, user-friendly customer service center replaced the former maze of small separate offices, thus allowing Department visitors to accomplish all of their agency business in one area with representatives from the many divisions available to assist them.
Later that year the agency launched its first Internet Web site, providing real-time remote public access to services and information on a 24-hour basis.
The Department won a 1997 Governor’s Service Award for "Operation Blind Date," a year-long investigation of a major dating service, resulting in payments of $55,000 in restitution to consumers and $20,000 to the Department to cover investigative costs, nationwide coverage on the popular "Dateline NBC" television program, and a law to protect consumers from future high-pressure sales tactics by requiring a three-day cancellation right for on-line dating service contracts.
By 1998, home improvement concerns consistently comprised the majority of complaints to the agency. Department investigators even uncovered one group of scammers taking a dead raccoon from house to house, scaring homeowners into unneeded chimney repairs by saying the creature was found in their chimney. Similar outrageous home improvement schemes and unfair practices were on the rise. The agency responded by launching stronger, more proactive enforcement of the Connecticut Home Improvement Act to combat these ongoing problems.
A multi-media advertising campaign that year encouraged home improvement contractors to get registered, offered a special amnesty period on penalties, and used hard-hitting TV, radio and newsprint ads to alert consumers to check that any home improvement contractor they hired was appropriately registered in Connecticut.
In February a $5,000 grant from the Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking and the Office of Policy and Management to combat the sale of alcohol to minors, supported the Department’s Liquor Control division in launching one of its most successful and longest-running campaigns. Liquor control agents joined forces with local police and trained volunteer minors to conduct fifty special undercover investigations across the state and found that more than one-third of those bars, restaurants, and package stores tested were selling alcohol to minors. The eye-opening impact of these first compliance checks led to the founding of the state’s new Underage Drinking Task Force and a series of ongoing, statewide compliance checks, which are still regularly conducted.
As the 1990's progressed, the Department worked to prepare for the shift to a new millennium. The agency was on 24-hour call to address any "Y2K" issues that might unexpectedly arise.
Food inspectors watched for threats to the food supply and monitored for signs of shortages. Drug Control staff assured citizens that all state pharmacies were capable of filling prescriptions without computers. Weights & Measures specialists were in contact with suppliers and retailers of heating oil, propane and gasoline. The agency alerted citizens to possible scams claiming to be "Y2K protections." A 24 hour hot-line was activated to answer questions and take complaints regarding these scams.
As it turned out, the new millennium dawned rather quietly and peacefully.