California's Department of Consumer Affairs has done well in proposing an expiration date to a bill that would have made the state's Seller of Travel Law, now up for renewal, permanent.

The year 2006 is too far in the future, in our view, but at least it ensures that this unfortunate law -- which unduly penalizes agents -- does not continue forever without a scheduled stop for a reality check.

The California Coalition of Travel Organizations, one of the cheerleaders of the bill, to its credit, does not oppose the idea that another look at the bill may be warranted down the road.

Corranne Gibson, president of the coalition and owner of Brickroad Travel in Orange, Calif., said, "Who knows where the industry will be in eight years? At that point, we can write another bill." Precisely.

By that time, it should become apparent that it is the agency community, under the badge of industry professionalism, that time and again is being asked to pay the price for failures by larger operators.

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Yes, it can be argued the good guys always are left to cover the misdeeds of the mismanagers. But if that is what this bill demands, retailers should be fully aware of the extent to which they are picking up the tab before this legislation gets locked into the machinery of the bureaucracy.

The recent failure by Los Angeles-based Mexico Travel Advisors, leaving hundreds of travelers to switch vacation plans, lends support to those who say retailers are bearing too much of the load. So far, three collapsed tour firms and an agency with a group have been responsible for about 75% of the claims.

What's wrong with the law, among many things, is that virtually all sellers of travel -- no matter how much business they do -- pay the same registration fee. And the big publicly traded agencies, such as American Express, are exempted.

It should be noted that the new bill would increase the restitution fund to $1.6 million and, unlike the 2-year-old bill that expires at the end of this year, would authorize its administrators to levy emergency assessments to keep the restitution pot full.

It's when retailers get pinched for further payments that the backers of this law may be happy the year 2006 is in the cards. We hope it won't be too late.

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