State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and Democrats in the Iowa Senate are pushing legislation that would forbid businesses from putting an expiration date on gift certificates. Fitzgerald says the Retail Federation estimates that one billion dollars worth of gift certificates was purchased in Iowa last year. “Happy Valentine’s Day! One of the things we know is that many of you will be getting gift cards for Valentine’s Day,” Fitzgerald said at a statehouse news conference. “It may seem kind of unromantic or it might surprise you, you’d be giving these cards on Valentine’s Day, but it is happening.”

Fitzgerald says more and more people want gift cards rather than a gift. Surveys show 53 percent of Americans preferred a gift card rather than a chosen and wrapped gift this past Christmas. “The thing our office hears about is the alarming number of folks (who) go to a restaurant or maybe they go to the massage parlor or they go to jewelry stores or make-up places to cash in their gift certificate and they find out they’re worthless,” Fitzgerald says. “These people are outraged. They paid money and are getting nothing in return.”

Senator Roger Stewart, a Democrat from Preston, says some businesses charge fees that reduce the value of the gift card and the legislation would forbid that practice, too. “We just believe that a gift card should have no expiration date or any fees,” Stewart says.

Senator Joel Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, says more than 20 states have laws that forbid expiration dates on gift certificates. Bolkcom says it’s one way to “stand up for consumers” and ensure they get the full value of gift cards they purchase and receive.