Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.
The committee hearing room was packed – with consumer advocates, payday lending representatives and interested onlookers, and also with questions and tension. Ted Saunders is the CEO of suburban Columbus based CheckSmart and heads the Ohio Consumer Lenders Association, and he addressed it right away. “My company nor the trade association funded, attended, coordinated or endorsed any of the trips surrounding the scandal that resulted in the resignation of the Speaker and has tangentially touched our industry,” Saunders said.
Just a week ago, a vote on a compromise on the bill had been stopped by some members of this same committee, which met just hours after Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger of Clarksville resigned. Sources say the FBI is asking about his international travel alongside title lending lobbyists. But this time, the bill passed in its original form – though Republican Bill Seitz of Cincinnati proposed some changes, which were rejected by fellow Cincinnati Republican Lou Blessing, the committee chair. “After having discussed this bill with the sponsors, they both felt that they’d prefer to have this bill passed out cleanly with no amendments.”
All committee members but Seitz voted to pass the bill, which would impose strict 28 percent interest rate caps and make changes to a payday lending crackdown law that voters upheld a decade ago. And it’s a win for Republican Representative Kyle Koehler of Springfield. “The 2008 law was not workable. That’s why people went through the loophole,” said Koehler.
Koehler and Democratic Representative Michael Ashford of Toledo had proposed the bill a year ago. Though there had been some interest initially, the bill had stalled, and recently Speaker Pro Tem Kirk Schuring of Canton announced he’d worked out a deal. Koehler said he’s not sure of the effect of the resignation of Rosenberger, but he’s happy with the committee’s nearly unanimous vote. “I think it was a very crazy week last week. I think, I don’t know what to think. But I do know that these folks stood up today, and I can’t be more proud of them. I really can’t,” Koehler said.
Saunders, who opposed the bill, said to him, the Speaker scandal appears to have played a role. “I have no judgment on that – I don’t know what did or didn’t happen. But I do know in American politics it’s a natural reaction whenever there’s an event to run away from it as fast as possible,” Saunders said. “I mean, that’s just human nature and I can’t fault people for that.”
Consumer advocates and faith groups pushing the bill were pleased, after being very disappointed in the lack of action last week. Carl Ruby is a pastor in Springfield. “I think having a week to think about it is helpful. I think they’ve had months to think about this, so this bill has been out there for a long time for them to think about. We just appreciate the fact that they’ve chosen to act on it,” Ruby said.
But the activists say they’re not taking any chances – Ruby says even though this bill is headed to the full House for a vote, they’re still continuing with a plan to put the proposal before voters on the ballot this fall.