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Internet

Bureaucratic bypass proposed

The Citizen Complaint Act of 1997 would require California state agencies and universities with Web sites to post complaint forms.

Frustrated consumers in California will be able to use the Net to cut through red tape if a new state bill passes.

The Citizen Complaint Act of 1997 would require state agencies and universities with Web sites to put complaint forms online by July 1, 1998. But accepting complaints online would not be part of the deal.

Recently elected Democratic Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg introduced the bill yesterday. Agencies will work the Department of Consumer Affairs to publish simple text forms online so consumers can complain about agencies or the companies and people they have licensed.

For example, people could complain about long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles and about shoddy service by an auto mechanic licensed by the DMV.

In its current state the bill only requires that the actual forms be posted on the Net. Hertzberg hopes agencies will eventually accept complaints online as well.

"It's really sexy to have all these Web pages that provide information about the agencies," said Christopher Carlisle, a legislative assistant for Hertzberg. "But if you're going to have a Web site you need to allow people to at least download a complaint form and hopefully file it electronically,"

Avid Net users might be annoyed that they still have to print out the forms and send them through regular mail. Still, that proposed setup is quicker than the current options of visiting in person or requesting a blank form over the phone.

In the next few weeks the Assemblyman will send surveys out to every state agency to get an idea of how long it normally takes to respond to filed complaints. A deadline for responding to Net forms may be added to the bill.