Pennsylvania Senate

Changing the Subject Doesn’t Make Payday Lending in PA a Better Idea

By Mark Price, Third and State

In legislative hearings last month, proponents of a bill to legalize high-interest payday loans tried to change the subject and questioned the motives of some of their constituents. But these attempts don’t alter the fact that allowing payday lending is a bad idea. 

As we’ve explained before — and as the U.S. military, U.S. Congress, and former President George W. Bush have all agreed — payday loans are a debt trap that further impoverishes low-income families, driving more of them into bankruptcy. Pennsylvania should leave in place the strong regulations that make use of payday loans much less common here than nationally.

Here is a bit more detail on what happened at the September 19 Senate Banking and Insurance Committee hearing on House Bill 2191. Chairman Don White raised the issue of credit cards and alleged that the AARP’s opposition to payday lending was motivated by the organization’s desire to protect a credit card product it offers. At another point, Representative Chris Ross, the sponsor of the bill, warned that payday lenders currently selling a limited number of online payday loans illegally may be stealing the identities of consumers. 

Even if this were true, why does it mean we should legalize storefront payday lenders to locate in local communities throughout Pennsylvania and charge 369% annual interest rates on short-term loans? It doesn’t. 

While the strategy of House Bill 2191’s supporters was to talk as little as possible about the dangers payday lending poses for consumers, more telling was who attended the hearings. The hearing room was full of people who had driven in from around the state — Pittsburgh, Allentown, Philadelphia. Pastors, credit counselors and affordable housing groups showed up in opposition to the bill, even though they weren't testifying.  

Their presence didn’t stop some committee members from questioning the motives of an AARP volunteer and rushing the testimony of a pastor of a social service ministry and a military veteran. The only supporters of the bill were the out-of-state companies that stand to benefit financially from these 369% APR loans.

The will of the people — and the editorial boards — on payday lending is clear. Don’t legalize it. Let’s hope that the will of the people outweighs the dollars of the payday lenders in this year’s end game on this issue.

Will Senator Williams recuse himself from Marcellus related votes?

Fun fact, everyone, I don't work for any non-profit at all any more. I am no longer a professional Organizer. My career in that vein has ended. That's not to say that I don't still care a ton about the issues. Especially the issue of the environment. Ironically, in fact, I found I did the worst job on the issue I cared the most about. Strange, but that's a post for another time.

The reason I am writing today is because I wanted to put an exchange I had with Senator Anthony Williams of West Philadelphia onto the record. First, because it should be instructive for other politicians on how not to use Twitter, and also because it raises an important public policy question: should politicians recuse themselves from voting on issues that their households have a vested interest in?

It started with this story in The Inquirer. From the short piece:

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the natural gas industry trade group, is expanding its presence in Southeastern Pennsylvania by hiring Shari Williams, a former communications specialist at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the wife of State Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D., Philadelphia).

If you're not familiar, The Marcellus Shale Coalition is a lobbying group that would have you believe that natural gas drilling is so clean and pure that loading the ground full of hydrochloric acid actually improves soil quality. Like... potatoes come out with vitamin C and manganese after one of their shale rigs gets done with a site.

Notably, Sen. Williams was one of two noteworthy Senate D's to cast the wrong vote on the only significant piece of legislation that has passed on the Marcellus Shale so far. Now known as Act 13.

So then when the news came out that his wife is now working for Team Pollution, my hackles were raised. It's not hard to imagine that the Senator had some idea that this relationship might be consummated even as the vote was going down. Shady. Or maybe he didn't. There had to be some reason why he and Hughes backed this legislation when every other Democrat stood against it, though. The crummiest part is that I don't think they even needed their votes to get it passed.

So I sent him the following tweet last Friday:

For the full exchange that followed, hit read more.

11 Things to Hate about the Pa. Senate Drilling Fee Bill

A blog post from Sharon Ward, originally published on Third and State.

Last week, the state Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee amended legislation to create a Marcellus Shale drilling impact fee in Pennsylvania. The full Senate could vote on it as soon as this week.

To channel my inner David Letterman, I have here a copy of the top 10 11 things to hate about this plan. (There was so much to hate about it, we couldn't even fit it into a top 10 list.)

Third and State Week in Review: Unemployment Benefits, Drilling Fee Bill and the Latest Jobs Report

Last week, we blogged about a drilling fee bill moving in the Pennsylvania Senate, a resolution to the legislative standoff over extended unemployment benefits, an update on the May jobs report and more.

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