Government debt collectors under fire... again

The $1.25 toll that became a $300 bill
The $1.25 toll that became a $300 bill

Yet another lawmaker is taking action to rein in abusive government debt collectors.

This time, the bill comes from the House of Representatives. Sponsored by Gregory Meeks, a Democratic congressman from New York, it follows similar bipartisan legislation from Senators Cory Booker and Mike Lee.

Both bills are in reaction to a CNNMoney investigation from early 2015 that found that government debt collectors -- which go after everything from overdue taxes to unpaid speeding tickets -- are rarely held to the same consumer protection laws as firms that collect consumer debts like credit card bills or auto loans.

Related: The secret world of government debt collection

And with the power of state, local and federal government agencies behind them, these collectors can play by their own rules -- leaving some of the nation's most vulnerable consumers with little recourse.

When CNNMoney's investigation was released, Meeks was one of the first lawmakers to speak out about his concerns over the industry's practices -- saying that "private debt collectors often have a financial incentive to draw blood from stones, pressuring individuals to make financial commitments they cannot truly afford."

gregory meeks debt bill
Congressman Gregory Meeks is the latest lawmaker to take on government debt collection.

His new bill, the Debt Collection Harmonization Act, would expand current consumer protection laws to include government debts -- such as speeding tickets and court fees.

Related: The debt collector that runs Texas

"Investigations by CNN revealed stories from people across the country abused by debt collectors operating under the assumed authority of state and local governments, and charging steep fees, making abusive threats of foreclosure, driver's license suspension, wage garnishment, and even arrest," Meeks said in a statement.

The bill would also bar private collectors from going after debts linked to natural disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy.

Related: Cory Booker takes on government debt collectors

Meeks said his bill is a companion to the Stop Debt Collection Abuse Act, introduced by Booker and Lee in November.

Since that legislation's introduction, Booker has been loudly calling for change.

"Hard-working Americans are being targeted, harassed and hassled by private collectors working to collect government debts while taking advantage of a legal exception," Booker wrote in a CNN op-ed last month. "It's not right and it's not fair."

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