Proposal Would Regulate Payday Lending

Texas lawmakers advanced a proposal Monday night to regulate short-term loans that carry high interest rates.

In a 24-6 vote, the state Senate approved a bill aimed at so-called payday lending. It still must pass the House.

Some of the lenders charge in excess of 500 percent interest plus numerous fees. Operating outside normal consumer lending laws, they say high default rates make their high interest rates necessary.

More than a dozen states ban the practice. Others cap the interest rates.

Several Texas cities have adopted local restrictions on the lenders.

Sen. John Carona, Republican of Dallas, said regulating the loans statewide could save consumers $220 million a year. But critics in the Legislature have accused Carona of protecting the industry with a bill enshrining only weak restrictions. After taking sharp questions during a debate last week, he temporarily withdrew consideration of his proposal, warning that a stronger bill would likely flounder in the House.

As he brought the bill up again on Monday, Carona acknowledged the criticism.

"I'm trying to find a balance in all this," he said.

Pushing for stronger regulations, Democratic lawmakers attached more than a dozen amendments that would strengthen the regulations. The amendments, for example, would limit refinancing and require lenders to accept partial payments on the loan's principal.

The debate elicited strong words. Senators gestured toward the gallery at unspecified people they described as industry lobbyists. The words "rob," "rape," and "liar" were used.

Before the debate finished, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, won approval of a contentious amendment that would preserve the right of cities to enact stronger regulations.

Carona, for his part, seemed resigned by the end.

"I just want to go home and feed my cat," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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