Today's (righteous) loser: State Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34).
Last year, then-Rep. Nelson (she moved over to the senate this year) successfully sponsored a bill that imposed new regulations on payday lenders---companies that provide small, short-term loans at extremely high interest rates. The loans---called payday loans because they're intended to get a borrower through until the next payday---are controversial because of their sky-high interest rates; progressive legislators had been trying for years to regulate the industry, without much luck before Nelson came along.
Nelson's bill limited the size of a payday loan to $700 or 30 percent of a person's income, whichever is less; barred people from taking out multiple payday loans at different companies ("Before, there used to be, like, one on every corner and if you reached a limit you'd just go next door," Nelson says); required companies to provide an installment plan for people who fall behind on their payments; and limited the number of loans a person could get to eight per year.
This year, a bill repealing the limit on how many loans a person could take in a year moved forward yesterday in both the house (where it's sponsored by Rep. Steve Kirby, D-29) and the senate (where it's sponsored by Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-11). The bill passed out of the senate financial institutions committee with a 4-2-1 majority (the 1 being Sen. Karen Keiser, D-33, who voted "no recommendation") and out of the house business committee with a 9-4 majority yesterday.
Prentice has received at least $13,000 since the beginning of 2008, the year she was most recently reelected, from payday lending companies like MoneyTree, Cash America, Dollar Financial Group, and Advance America. Kirby has not received significant contributions from payday lending companies.
Nelson says her reforms have worked. In the year since her bill first passed, Nelson says, the amount spent on payday loans statewide has declined from $1.1 billion to $434 million, and the amount spent on fees to payday lenders has declined from $183 million to $61 million. Without the eight-day limit, Nelson told says she's "very concerned" that those numbers will start to go back up.
Although proponents of payday loans like Prentice make a social-justice argument that poor people need access to credit, even if it means astronomical interest rates, Nelson argues that "It's an injustice when folks are trapped in a spiral of debt at a 400 percent interest rate. I'm an ex-banker, and you always offer a product where people can actually pay it back."
As for concerns that people will simply flee to Internet loan sites if they lose access to traditional payday lending companies, Nelson says that if the data show they are (stats are hard to come by because online loan companies are based all over the country), the state should pass a law requiring companies that operate here to meet Washington State payday lending standards.
However, Nelson doesn't think that's what's happening. "Are people fleeing to the Internet? I don't think so. I think there are fewer lenders" thanks to the new law, Nelson says.
Today's winners: Non-union state employees and state press flacks.
Governor Chris Gregoire vetoed a portion of the supplemental budget deal this afternoon that would have decreased non-union state employee pay by three percent in April, May, and June. She also vetoed a $1 million reduction to state agency communications staff.
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