Some view today’s passage of House Bill 123, a payday lending reform bill that seeks to close loopholes left open by a 2008 law that allows lenders to get around a 28% interest rate cap, as a victory for the little guy.
In this case the little guy could be borrowers who have been charged astronomical rates, or the sponsor of the bill who it appears was being muscled out of his own bill.
State Representatives Kyle Koehler and Mike Ashford introduced the bill in March 2017.
It went a long time without getting hearings and it appeared to take public outcry to dislodge it from the languishing state it was in.
Some claim the reason for the delay in dealing with the legislation was because interested parties, like representatives for payday loan companies, were having meetings with lawmakers trying to reach a compromise they could all agree on.
Ted Saunders, the CEO of CheckSmart and the president of the Ohio Consumer Lenders Associaton (which has 9 members), was one of those negotiating with House leaders like Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Kirk Schuring.
Saunders says Koehler was offered opportunities to visit stores to meet employees and customers but he refused.
The negotiations went on for nearly a year and last week Rep. Schuring had developed a set of amendments to Koehler’s bill that if it were any other week, may have been introduced to the bill.
As fate would have it, though, that was the week Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned from his position under a cloud of suspicion related to an FBI inquiry.
There has been insinuation that the inquiry has to do with lobbyists, perhaps from the payday lending industry or the motion picture industry; no one knows for sure though and a seed of doubt has crept into the Statehouse.
Could the Speaker’s actions have tainted legislation in anyway?
That is the question some lawmakers want to make sure is not attached to bills moving forward, so they are taking steps to remove any doubt.
House Bill 123, is one such piece of legislation. For some it is, ultimately, safer to pass the bill as it was introduced and before changes were made as a result of lobbying by the industry.
The benefit to passing it “clean,” or without amendments, is that doing so strips it down to its basic, fresh of the presses content; and if the chamber decides to pass it out of the chamber “clean,” it becomes the Senate’s problem to deal with.
In the Senate, the bill would have to go through the entire committee process again, which means more hearings, more negotiating, and ultimately a likely compromise.
The same lobbyists will be doing the negotiating, and they will have to convince the senators to go along with any changes they want to make to the bill.
The question then becomes, ‘how long does all of that take?’
There are still plenty of opportunities to hold hearings between now and December 31st, but every day that passes those opportunities dwindle.
Negotiations will have to take significantly less time in the Senate if they hope to get the bill passed at all this General Assembly.
A pessimist would say, ‘well that works for the lobbyists because they can just keep delaying things asking for more meetings.’
An optimist would say, ‘lawmakers are going to see through that and move forward with a bill when they think it’s ready.’
For his part, Saunders wants to pick things up where the House left off and says there are amendments that are amicable to the industry they are ready to accept.
Even supporters of the bill say they heard some amendments today that could be good for the bill; and then stressed that it was some of the amendments, not all, before indicating they had to be vigilant and not take today’s victory as a mission accomplished moment and allow the bill to be usurped into something unrecognizable.
There is still a long way to go before payday lending is reformed in Ohio.
Supporters and opponents of the bill aren’t likely to take their eyes off the prize until the fate of HB 123 is finally decided by the stroke of the Governors pen or the stroke of father time’s clock as it ticks away the last moment of the General Assembly.