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Forest Hills High helps create state bill

The idea for a piece of legislation state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D−Forest Hills) will introduce within a month to help residents read the abundance of small print on bills was born in a Forest Hills High School classroom several years ago.

“I used to teach an honors economics class, and three or four years ago I asked the kids what they would do to help consumers,” said Forest Hills High School Principal Saul Gootnick. “One student said people have telephone bills or credit card bills and they have no idea what the extra charges are because there are so many lines and it’s hard to read them all. So we came up with an idea that it would be great to put the extra charges in a bold font, which wouldn’t cost companies much to do.”

Gootnick relayed the idea to Hevesi last June, and the lawmaker will soon introduce the bill in the Legislature. The current legislation differs a bit from the students’ original idea, and Ashley Pillsbury, Hevesi’s legislative director, said it would require companies to print surcharges in a larger font.

“We’re deciding if we want to legislate a specific size or just require it to be bigger,” Pillsbury said. “Currently, the language suggests the bill would apply to telephone bills, utility bills and any bills from a municipality, such as water bills.”

“Even a proactive consumer can have trouble reading the surcharges,” Pillsbury added. “The purpose of this bill is to make it easier for consumers to be aware of what they’re being billed for.”

Gootnick praised the bill, saying it is especially important in today’s rocky financial climate for consumers to understand charges on their various bills.

“How many times do you get a bill and you’re resigned to whatever they’re charging you because the print is so small and you don’t know what the additional fees are?” he asked. “This bill would have a major impact, especially now, with so many people in financial problems, to know what they’re being charged for and to see if that’s right or not.”

Gootnick said the honors economics class, which is mandatory for all high school students, helps the individuals to be financially savvy in a world where it is important to be able to navigate everything from a credit card bill to student loans.

“As part of the class, there’s a six−week unit called financial literacy,” Gootnick said. “It’s all about knowing how to use a debit card, knowing what predatory interest rates are and getting kids to ask questions about things like loans. Our goal is to make sure all our students are financially literate.”

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