Bill to let payday lenders make bigger, longer loans heads to governor

March 08, 2018
  • By Jim Saunders
  • News Service of Florida
Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, was one of nine House members, all Democrats, who voted against an industry-backed bill now heading to Gov. Rick Scott that would allow payday lenders make bigger, longer high-interest loans to people who consumer groups say can ill afford it. Three other Palm Beach County representatives were among those voting against the bill: Lori Berman, D-Lantana; Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana; and Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

With little discussion, the Florida House late Wednesday passed measures to revamp regulations for the payday-loan industry and to expand the state’s resign-to-run election law, sending the issues to Gov. Rick Scott.

The votes came amid a batch of bills that were quickly approved by the House at the end of a marathon floor session dominated by a debate on school-safety legislation.

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House members voted 106-9 to approve the payday loan bill (SB 920), which also easily cleared the Senate on Saturday. The industry-backed measure would allow payday lenders to make larger loans for longer periods of time.

A short time later Wednesday, the House voted 87-27 to approve the resign-to-run bill (SB 186), which passed the Senate in January. If signed by Scott, it would extend resign-to-run requirements to state and local officials who run for congressional seats. It means that if the terms of the offices overlap, the officials have to submit resignations at least 10 days before qualifying to run, with the resignations effective when the officials would take the new offices or when their successors would take office.

The law already applies to state and local elected officials who decide to run for other state or local offices.

As examples, the state Senate terms of Miami Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez and Sarasota Republican Greg Steube are slated to end in 2020. But both plan to run for open congressional seats this year. Under the bill, they would have to submit resignations this year from the state Senate to run for Congress.

While the payday-loan bill did not draw a floor debate Wednesday, it spurred lengthy discussions during House committee meetings in recent weeks — and faced opposition from consumer advocates and religious groups.

The bill would allow the businesses to make “installment” loans up to $1,000, with repayment over 60 to 90 days. Current law limits the high-interest loans to $500 for periods of seven to 31 days.

Supporters say the proposal was prompted by potential changes in federal regulations that could affect the types of smaller-dollar, shorter-term loans made by payday lenders in Florida. Also, supporters contend that payday loans play a key role for many low-income people who don’t have access to other types of credit.

Among the key backers of the bill has been Tampa-based Amscot Financial, Inc., whose roster of lobbyists includes former Congressman and state Sen. Kendrick Meek and former state Rep. Joe Gibbons.

Opponents of the measure, however, have argued that payday loans can lead to consumers falling into a “debt trap.” The House members who voted against it Wednesday were Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach; Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee; Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana; Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana; Rep. Bobby Olszewski, R-Winter Garden; Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach; Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton; Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando; and Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami.