Under the Dome

Dome: Bill would restart payday lending in N.C.

FROM STAFF REPORTSFebruary 14, 2013 

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper came out strongly Thursday against efforts to restart payday lending in North Carolina.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican from Archdale, has filed a bill that would bring the loans back to the state.

Senate Bill 89, which also lists Republican Sens. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville and Clark Jenkins of Tarboro as sponsors, allows loans on postdated checks with fees as high as 15 percent.

Cooper and consumer advocates immediately pounced on the attempt to once again legalize the payday industry in the state.

“This is the same old rip-off we ran out of our state years ago,” Cooper said in a statement. “These overpriced loans trap borrowers in a cycle of debt many cannot escape. Payday lending was a bad idea then, and it’s a bad idea now.”

The state outlawed payday lending more than a decade ago. Industry opponents argued that the loans trapped people in high-interest debt.

Under the current bill, lenders could make loans of as much as $500 for as long as 35 days. The lender could charge fees of as much as 15 percent to cover operational costs, such as keeping the check in a safe and keeping records.

Chris Kukla, senior counsel for Government Affairs for the Center for Responsible Lending in Durham, said the law has a number of “so-called protections” that he called meaningless.

One example, Kukla offers: “The lender is supposed to ask whether the borrower has another loan outstanding, but there’s no way to verify. There is no penalty on the lender if they end up making a loan to a consumer with a loan outstanding.”

Payday lenders proliferated in the state in the late 1990s. After lawmakers outlawed the practice in 2001, some shut down while others found ways to keep operating. The AG and the state commissioner of banks shut down the last storefront lender in 2006. The state’s payday lending laws have been held up as a model for other states.

Last month, Regions Bank quit making paydaylike loans after being pressured by Cooper’s office. The bank had tried to claim protection under federal law because its charter is not in North Carolina.

Concealed permits

The first gun bill to be taken up in a committee this session would make the list of handgun permit and concealed-carry permit holders no longer a public record. A Senate judiciary committee argued the bill along party lines Thursday before running out of time.

The committee will take up Senate Bill 28 by Sen. Stan Bingham, a Republican from Denton, next time.

Currently, county sheriffs maintain lists of permit-holders and send the information to the State Bureau of Investigation. News media outlets have periodically written stories about what parts of the state have the most handguns.

Bingham said constituents tell him they are afraid their homes will be broken into if it’s known whether they have guns inside. The bill doesn’t affect rifles and other long guns because the state doesn’t keep track of those weapons.

Democrats on the committee asked whether there was any statistical connection between home burglaries and the publication of handgun permits. Bingham could not say there was a proven connection.

“I can’t tell if this is a perception of a problem that may exist or whether it is an actual problem,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat. “… Why would anybody break into a place with an arsenal?”

John Bussian, representing the N.C. Press Association, said reporters have used the data to write stories in the public interest, and called it “another government secrecy bill.”

Greg Stahl of the N.C. Sheriff’s Association said there are some number of requests pending for that information from non-news media sources.

‘Costly and devastating’

The Environmental Defense Fund is airing television ads in North Carolina to boost President Barack Obama’s climate change message.

North Carolina is one of seven states and the District of Columbia where the ads will appear for the next two weeks. The 15-second spots say climate change causes more “costly and devastating” storms and “carbon pollution that leads to more asthma attacks.” The kicker: “Support the president’s strategy to reduce climate change pollution.”

It’s difficult to gauge whether the ads will make a difference. The group would not release the size of the ad buy. The ads are running on four Charlotte TV stations and on a Spanish-language channel in Raleigh.

“We strongly support the President’s goal of reducing carbon pollution,” spokesman Keith Gaby said in a statement. “This ad campaign is intended to show the American public what’s at stake.”

Staff writers Lynn Bonner, Mary Cornatzer, Craig Jarvis and John Frank

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