- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — Those trapped in debt by payday loans would have a dramatically longer period to repay a loan under an industry reform bill passed yesterday by senators who said they want to protect the vulnerable while leaving the option open for responsible borrowers.

The Senate waited until the last day to introduce its compromise in the form of a substitute to Sen. Phillip P. Puckett’s reform bill. Yesterday was the deadline for each chamber to complete work on its own legislation.

The House overwhelmingly passed a vastly different bill Monday.

The Senate bill, which passed the Senate by a 37-2 vote with one senator abstaining, would not limit the number of payday loans a person could have annually, unlike the House version. Instead, it would allow borrowers to enter into a 60-day extended payment plan if they thought they couldn’t repay a loan on time. After the loan is repaid, the borrower would be barred from taking out another loan for 90 days.

Borrowers would be limited to two extended periods per year.

It also requires a 90-day cooling-off period for someone who has been in default on a loan for 60 days.

Comparable to the House version, the Senate bill would create a database to track payday loans and limit borrowers to one loan at a time. It also would allow lenders to charge up to 36 percent annual interest on top of fees similar to those already in place.

Industry officials said they favored the Senate version over the House bill, which caps the number of loans a person can have at five per year in addition to allowing only one at a time.

Still, they said, enforcing the one-loan limit could hurt lenders and might force some to close.

Although initially calling the bill “industry-driven and business as usual,” Sen. Mamie E. Locke, Hampton Democrat, voted in favor of it.

“This bill is, in reality, smoke and mirrors, but I’m going to hold my nose and vote for it,” Miss Locke said. “But I hope that in the interim and in the process of this bill moving forward … that every effort will be made to try to find a way to keep borrowers from getting into the cycle of debt.”

Mr. Puckett, Russell County Democrat, vowed that the bill will be improved further.

“I want to see the bill move forward. I think we have an opportunity to make it even a little bit better, and we need a vehicle to do that, and I think we have that,” he said.

•••

The state Senate narrowly passed legislation yesterday that dramatically changes the way developers contribute money for the costs of municipal services required by new development.

Developers currently offer cash and land for roads, schools and parks. Those voluntary commitments, called proffers, usually are negotiated with city or county leaders and can be upward of $47,000 for each new house in some localities.

In recent years, however, some localities have made proffers an informal requirement for approval of a project. Some developers argue that proffers are to blame for the slump in the housing market because the cost is passed on to buyers.

Sen. John C. Watkins’ bill, which passed by a vote of 21-19, replaces proffers with impact fees, which would be capped at $7,500 per house, except in Northern Virginia, where localities could charge $12,500 per house.

“The proffer system as it exists today is out of control,” said Mr. Watkins, Powhatan Republican. “It has had an adverse effect on the affordability of housing.”

Many localities have opposed the measure, arguing that it would bring in less money and limit their ability to fund new services.

“Our jurisdictions are scrambling to figure out what the impact of this bill is going to be on them,” said Sen. Mark R. Herring, Loudoun Democrat, who voted against the measure. “For some, it may end up being a benefit, but for others, it could be horrendous for the taxpayers.”

Mr. Herring proposed an amendment that would have exempted the fast-growing regions of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads from the impact fees, but it was voted down.

•••

The Senate passed a bill that would allow people to carry concealed handguns in restaurants or clubs, but would prohibit them from drinking alcohol on the premises.

The Senate voted 24-15 yesterday in favor of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., Augusta Republican, making it a misdemeanor for those carrying a concealed handgun to drink alcohol at such venues.

Current law allows gun owners to bring their weapons into a restaurant or club only if they are visible and only if the business owner has not prohibited it.

Under the legislation, those carrying concealed handguns into restaurants or clubs would be required to inform an employee that they have a weapon.

Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, objected to the measure, saying he has heard from many restaurateurs who oppose the legislation.

•••

The Senate passed legislation establishing a two-year study on the safety of uranium mining.

Before voting 36-4 yesterday to pass the study, several senators stressed that they didn’t support the concept but thought it wouldn’t hurt to study the issue.

The study eventually could result in lifting the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia.

The proposal stems from a company’s desire to tap a huge uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County. It is the largest unmined uranium deposit in the nation, worth an estimated $10 billion.

•••

The Senate unanimously passed legislation yesterday that would require some welfare recipients to be tested for drugs.

People applying for or already in the job-training program required to receive welfare would be questioned about substance abuse, and those suspected of abusing drugs could be required to take a drug test.

If the person fails, he or she would be required to complete a drug-treatment program to continue receiving federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, which goes to low-income families with children.

Mr. Puckettsponsored the bill to allow someone to fail one drug test and remain in the treatment program.

•••

Yesterday was a good day for dogs.

Without debate, the House of Delegates passed bills cracking down on dogfighting and so-called puppy mills.

The dogfighting bill makes it easier for authorities to investigate people who engage in the blood sport. The measure was prompted at least in part by the Michael Vick dogfighting case last year. The suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback is serving 23 months for a federal dogfighting conspiracy.

The bill applies to all forms of animal fighting, making cockfighting a felony for the first time in Virginia. The vote was 93-2.

The puppy-mill measure passed by a vote of 91-6. It would regulate and license commercial dog breeders, whose operations would be subject to inspection by animal-control officials.


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