Commentary: Finally, some Statehouse action on payday lending

Finally, some Statehouse action on payday lending

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Finally, some Statehouse action on payday lending

Thanks to a determined state legislator from Springfield, and the General Assembly’s Republican leadership, Ohioans may soon be protected by a pro-consumer payday lending law.

The legislator is Republican Rep. Kyle Koehler. He and a Toledo Democrat, Rep. Michael Ashford, are co-sponsors of bipartisan House Bill 123, which Ohio’s Senate passed last week in a 21-9 vote. Ohio’s House passed the bill 71-17 on June 7.

It took 15 months for the House to act, thanks to the relentless opposition of the payday loan industry, which has been charging Ohio borrowers some of the highest rates in the United States. Sen. Dave Burke, a Marysville Republican who voted for HB 123, said payday lenders had fielded 41 Statehouse lobbyists to fight Koehler and Ashford’s bill, cleveland.com’s Laura Hancock noted. The Senate has 33 members; that’s one payday loan lobbyist per senator – with eight lobbyists to spare. That’s the Statehouse equivalent of human-wave attacks.

Self-interest is the fuel of politics. The payday loan industry has every right to defend its profits. And Koehler and the many others who want to reform how the industry does business in Ohio have every right to push for change. General Assembly leaders and committee chairs umpire such contests. In the Senate, the umps on HB 123 were Senate President Larry Obhof, a Medina Republican, and Sen, Scott Oelslager, a North Canton Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

Neither Obhof nor Oelslager has enlisted in Ralph Nader’s Raiders. Senate passage of HB 123, and House passage, shepherded in June by Speaker Ryan Smith, a Gallia County Republican, were matters of practical politicking. Still, if, as expected, Smith’s House agrees to Senate changes in HB 123, the bill will go to Gov. John R. Kasich, who almost certainly will sign it.

That’s a remarkable turnabout. Koehler and Ashford’s bill was all but ignored by legislative leaders after the bill was introduced in March 2017. But three months ago, then-Speaker Clifford Rosenberger, a Clinton County Republican, resigned. It turned out that the FBI was investigating a London junket Rosenberger took. The junket included payday loan lobbyists.

If you want to do to a General Assembly member what garlic does to a vampire, mention the term "FBI" within earshot of the Statehouse. Given the scuttlebutt surrounding Rosenberger's resignation, there was no way the legislature's Republicans couldn't pass some kind of payday lending reform. The question was whether the bill would have teeth. Koehler's HB 123 does – and Senate Republicans sharpened them.

Still, the nine Senate Republicans who voted “no” on HB 123 live in counties that voted “yes” on a 2008 statewide referendum that capped payday loan APRs at 28 percent. For example, Sen. Bob Hackett, of London, represents Clark, Greene and Madison counties. He voted “no” on HB 123. In 2008, 64 percent of those voting on the issue in Clark County supported capping payday loan APRs; so did 66 percent of those voting in Greene County, and 65 percent of those voting in Madison County. Also voting “no” on HB 123 was Sen. William P. Coley II, who represents parts of Butler County. In 2008, 59 percent of those voting on the issue in Butler County supported capping payday loan APRs.

True, as the Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke told constituents in the 1700s, a legislator must use his or her judgment in deciding issues rather than just be a loudspeaker for the opinions of the folks back home. But as to payday lending, the folks back home didn’t just sound off. They voted.

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