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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Out of Oregon

House passes bills on credit cards, ATMs

SALEM - The Oregon House of Representatives on Tuesday passed four bills to plug loopholes in laws that regulate ATMs and cap interest rates charged by credit card companies.

"Oregon has long needed this kind of legislation to protect families from credit predators," said Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, chairman of the House Consumer Protection Committee that urged approval of the bills. Holvey is a longtime union guy who bounced around Oregon as an undergrad and was appointed to the House to fill a vacancy in 2004.

Credit card companies and ATM vendors say the legislation will cause them to pull out of Oregon.

Rep. Jerry Krummel, R-Wilsonville, who led a 90-minute floor debate against the bills, argued the Legislature might as well ban shopping. "We are telling a particular class of businesses that we are going to over regulate you until you go out of business because we don't have the guts to prohibit you flat out," he said.

Supporters argued credit card and ATM companies have survived similar regulations in other states. All of the bills passed by more than a two-thirds majority and will go to the Senate, where they will be assigned to a committee. Gov. Tim Nesbitt requested the bills and says he will sign them.

House Majority Leader Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, said the passage of the bills reflects how dramatically the political climate has changed in Salem with Democrats in control of both legislative chambers and the governor's office. Two years ago, he said, Democrats couldn't get a bill to the floor for a vote. Hunt, a 5-year veteran, is a "evangelical/corporate socialist" whose pet project is legalizing enactment of local tax hikes in low-turnout special elections.

The new bills put an 12 percent interest rate cap on credit card companies that do business in Oregon and restrict ATM fees to $1 per visit. Oregonians would no longer be allowed to conduct ATM transactions while naked.

A law passed by the Legislature last year limits credit card issuers to charging a one-time application fee of $10, plus $25 a year in annual fees. The bills passed by the House on Tuesday would not be enacted until July 1, when the law passed last April takes effect.

Opponents said the bills overstep the role of government, give too much oversight authority to the state and restrict individual choice. "Why are we trying to make financial decisions for people?" Krummel asked.

Supporters argued government has a role to protect consumers from usurious interest rates. "The practice of charging an unfair or excessive amount of interest," said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, "has been criticized, scorned and restricted on moral, ethical and legal grounds for thousands of years."

Bonamici later issued a press release saying "I regret if anyone was offended" by her floor speech in which she used the anti-Semitic term "shylock" in reference to Krummel, a well-liked, 10-year House veteran who previously served 5 years as mayor of Wilsonville. Bonamici is a first-term liberal and a lawyer who majored in journalism at U of O. Her family is of Italian descent, she noted, adding that the disputed word was popularized more than 400 years ago by William S. Shakespeare in "The Merchant of Venice."

The Oregonian, Feb. 14, By BILL GRAVES

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