- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — Gov. Tim Kaine announced action yesterday on a slew of bills, including $8.9 million in additional spending in the state budget and a few technical amendments to legislation tightening regulations on payday lenders.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, also signed legislation toughening the law against animal fighting and proposed an earlier effective date for a measure regulating so-called “puppy mills,” concluding his action on the 889 bills passed by the 2008 General Assembly. Lawmakers will reconvene April 23 to consider Mr. Kaine’s amendments and previously announced vetoes.

Neither the payday loan industry nor its critics were entirely happy with legislation extending the amount of time borrowers have to repay the high-interest, short-term loans and effectively limiting how many payday loans a borrower can get each year. The measure will take effect Jan. 1.

The Virginia Organizing Project, a nonprofit social justice group that lobbied to rein in the payday lenders, had urged Mr. Kaine to offer amendments substantially toughening the compromise legislation.

“In response to legislative expectations and agreements made, however, it appears that Governor Kaine considered his hands to be tied and could only offer clarifying amendments,” said the group’s leader, Janice Johnson. She said the organization “deeply regrets this decision.”

Jamie Fulmer, spokesman for industry leader Advance America, Cash Advance Centers Inc., said he appreciated Mr. Kaine resisting pressure to propose even tighter regulations in legislation that already threatens to put some lenders out of business.

“The end result is still one of the most restrictive payday lending laws in the country,” Mr. Fulmer said. “It’s quite certain some lenders are going to be forced to close as a result of this new law, and others will be significantly impacted.”

He said the legislation complicates what is now a simple transaction in which borrowers pay $15 for every $100 borrowed, then repay the loan on their next payday — typically two weeks.

Under the new law, lenders will charge 20 percent of the loan, plus 36 percent interest and a $5 fee to cover the cost of the database. The bill also establishes a database to track loans.

Miss Johnson said, however, that the bill “only accomplished limited improvements while maintaining extremely high fees” that can trap vulnerable borrowers in an endless cycle of debt. She said the organization will continue to push for tougher regulations.

The governor also offered only modest revisions to the state’s two-year budget. The biggest increase is $5 million for grants to private nonprofit organizations to preserve endangered Civil War sites. Mr. Kaine also proposed $4 million in incentives to bring pharmaceutical and biomedical research company SRI International to the Interstate 81 corridor.

There are several smaller increases, but savings elsewhere in the budget bring the net spending increase down to $8.9 million — a tiny fraction of the budget’s $77 billion total. Along with the spending amendments, Mr. Kaine offered dozens of technical or clarifying changes.

Mr. Kaine also signed legislation making cockfighting a felony and giving authorities more tools for investigating and prosecuting dogfighters. The measure gained broad support after the federal dogfighting conspiracy conviction of suspended NFL quarterback Michael Vick.

The governor proposed making the puppy-mill legislation effective Jan. 1 instead of July 1, 2009. The legislation requires large commercial dog-breeding operations to get a business license and submit to inspections by local animal-control officers. It also imposes strict record-keeping requirements.

The bill was prompted by problems last year at several puppy mills, including a fire that killed nearly 200 animals in Bland County and the discovery of more than 1,000 dogs at a Carroll County dog-breeding operation.

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