Hot List: Day 106 of the Legislature

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The Lead:

There aren’t many consumer victories at the Texas Capitol, but Monday’s debate on payday loan reform was certainly one of them. After hours of debate, the Texas Senate passed surprisingly tough payday loan reform, as the Observer‘s Forrest Wilder writes.

After a false start last Thursday—in which senators accused each other of being “shills” for industry—Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) brought his SB 1247 back to the Senate floor, and it eventually passed 24 to 6. But not before the Senate added a series of amendments that transformed a watered-down compromise bill into a serious reform of the payday and auto title lending industry. The bill now prohibits lenders from offering more than one payday loan to a person at a time and caps interest rates at 36 percent APR, in addition to more restrictions that protect the loan recipient from drowning  debt. In other words, the bill would end the predatory payday loan practices in Texas, as we know them.

It may be a pyrrhic victory, however. The strong reforms may doom the bill in the House. The wealthy and powerful payday industry will do whatever it can to kill the bill.

Yesterday’s Headlines:

1. According to the Quorum Report, the House budget conferees (who will now negotiate the final budget with the Senate) were named yesterday. They are Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie), Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), John Otto (R-Dayton), Myra Crownover (R-Denton) and John Zerwas (R-Richmond). After these negotiators were named, the House voted 77 to 68 to instruct the five not to vote for any provision that might even mention expanding Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare, reports the Dallas Morning News.

2. Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) brought forth a resolution on Monday that would give the go ahead to electric rebates. The measure passed the Senate despite significant opposition from Democrats, reports the Texas Tribune’s Morgan Smith. Under this measure, 90 percent of the almost $1 billion System Benefit Fund, originally intended to assist impoverished families with utility payments, would end up in the hands of the electric customers. Returning the money would be a huge boon to commercial users, not necessarily Texas families. Retail electric customers in competitive areas like Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth would get refunds of approximately $119 per electric meter.

Line of the Day:

“I just want to go home and feed my cat.” —Sen. John Carona near the end of the debate that turned his compromise payday loan bill into a serious reform bill.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. Today, the House floor will hear HB 166, which would set up an innocence commission to investigate potential cases of wrongful conviction.

3. Sen. Dan Patrick’s (R-Houston) big charter school expansion bill, SB 2, is scheduled to be discussed in the House Public Education Committee. The bill’s already passed the Senate.

2. The House will also hear Sunset legislation that proposes continuing the Texas Lottery Commission for another 12 years.