Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Payday lending legislation -- and bipartisanship -- in Austin

So maybe I was wrong when I said the Lege wouldn't respond to Mayor Parker's harsh language.

State Reps. Tom Craddick and Eddie Rodriguez are a political odd couple united by their legislation that payday lenders say will put them out of business.

Craddick is a Midland Republican, former speaker of the House and 42-year legislative veteran with a pro-business background. Rodriguez, an Austin Democrat beginning his ninth year in office, is an advocate for the poor with a strong pro-consumer record.

They have filed identical legislation, however, because of reports that lenders making short-term loans are legally sidestepping interest rate caps by charging fees that can push annual interest rates above 500 percent. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is carrying legislation in that chamber. 

This is really good news all around, in fact. The opposition will be prepared, though.

In 2009, the industry blocked legislation being considered by the Legislature before it reached the floor, and its influence at the Capitol continues today.

For example, Gov. Rick Perry appointed William "Bill" White, a Cash America executive, as chairman of the Texas Finance Commission, which writes lending regulations. 

But the momentum clearly seems to be in favor of reform.

Craddick and Rodriguez said their side is better organized this time.

Unlike in 2009, when several solutions were offered, the two have a common approach backed by a broad coalition of church groups, retirees and consumer groups.

Craddick said even an archbishop who delivered the invocation for the House of Representatives lined up a few votes while he was on the House floor.

"I like our odds better this time," Craddick said.

Walter Moreau, executive director of Foundation Communities in Austin, said the support of conservatives such as Craddick will assist in a Legislature dominated by Republicans.

"We're generally bleeding-heart liberals," Moreau said. "But I'm optimistic that there is a broad enough coalition to get something passed." 

Beyond the usual skirmishes -- the budget battle, the squabbling over education funding, the GOP's War on Birth Control and Planned Parenthood -- it's nice to see some bipartisan efforts paying dividends. As a matter of fact, bipartisanship is breaking out elsewhere. Look at this.

A few weeks before the start of the 2013 Legislature, incoming GOP Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Tea Party-backed conservative, placed a phone call to state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat whom Republicans had unsuccessfully targeted for defeat in the November elections.

"I said, 'You know, you're perceived as one of the more liberal senators in the state of Texas and I'm perceived as one of the more conservative members of the Texas House,'" the 29-year-old Bedford lawmaker said last week in recalling his side of the conversation. "'I think it would be a great statement to send back to our constituents that we could put all that aside ... and focus on getting through stuff that helps Texas.'"

The result was bipartisan legislation by the two lawmakers that aims to assist the children of military families. Stickland's House bill already has 80-plus supporters, more than enough to secure passage if it comes to the House floor.

Color me encouraged by the early developments in this legislative session.

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