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klru3 tv and beyond KLRU-TV, Austin PBS, creates innovative television that inspires and educates. KLRU-produced programs that air statewide on Texas PBS stations include Central Texas Gardener, Texas Monthly Talks and The Biscuit Brothers. Check your local listings, Mnr*Vik ,W 10CentralTexas Gardener A** Texas had 1,513 payday loan stores in 2005. Today, there are more than 2,800 and growing. Last month, seven payday reform bills finally gained a hearing in Austin. Rep. Vicki Truitt, a Republican from Southlake who chairs the House Committee on Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services, cre ated a subcommittee to look at bills that would, among other things, cap interest rates at 36 percentand one that would shut down CSOs altogether. The author of the proposal to close the CSO loophole was a surprise: Former House Speaker Tom Craddick. During an April 14 hearing, the longtime Republican legislator from Midland explained why. Linda Lewis, the 53-year-old former employee of Paul Davis, an influental Midland businessman, had racked up $12,000 in debt after borrowing $6,300 from an auto-title lender to pay for her stepson’s funeral. Lewis had turned to Davis for help, and he paid off the debt. Word got around. It caused a stir in Craddick’s backyard. “I’m getting an earful from my constituents on this bill,” Craddick told the subcommittee. As he spoke, the payday lobbyists who’d packed the hearing room appeared unfazed, tapping away at their BlackBerries. Before he testified, Craddick circulated among them just like old times, chatting up some of the payday lobby’s biggest players, including former House Speaker Gib Lewis, superlobbyist Rusty Kelley, and Bill Messer, a Craddick ally and member of the powerful lobby firm Texas Capitol Group. The lobbyists had other reasons to feel assured. Two of the three subcommittee members had received campaign contributions from payday PACs. Chair Dan Flynn, a Republican from Canton, got $5,000. \(In 2005, Flynn filed a bill to increase the ber Tan Parker, a Republican from Denton, received $1,500 for his 2008 campaign. If any of the reform bills got through the subcommittee, they would go to the House committee chaired by Truitt, who got $1,500 in campaign money from payday PACs last year. Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, the vice chair of Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services, received $1,000 during his last campaign. On the Senate side, Republican Troy Fraser of Marble Falls, who chairs the Business and Commerce Committee overseeing CSOs, received $3,500. Vice Chair Chris Harris, a Republican from Fort Worth, took $7,000 from payday PACs. Even some authors of CSO reform bills have gotten money from payday lender PACs. Rep. Marisa Marquez, a first-term Democrat from El Paso who is carrying one of the bills, got $1,000 in 2008. “The checks I receive for $50 or $25 dollars from my constituents have a lot more impact than a PAC check,” she says. “Ultimately, it’s about safeguarding my community, and $1,000 won’t change that” If the 15 lobbyists who testified at the April 14 hearing couldn’t convince the subcommittee that payday loans were a blessing in disguise for working Texans, they had another weapon: Michael Price, senior pastor of the Gates of Dominion Word Ministry International. Pastor Price told the panel that in addition to his ministerial role, he serves as president of the Texas Coalition for Consumer Choice, which claims 45,000 members. Members, he testified, had given him permission to speak on their behalf in opposition to the CSO reform bills. Payday lenders, Price said, provide a valuable service to his fellow African-Americans in Texas by offering loans to people in a financial pinch. Questioned after the hearing about what had driven him to create his coalition, the pastor was evasive. “It was an evolutionary process that started about six months ago:’ he said. Price said he’d become convinced that payday loans keep low-income mothers and fathers from sending their children out to sell drugs or engaging in prostitution. Asked whether the CSOs were giving him any financial compensation, Price answered, “Not directly, but indirectly, because I want them to stay around!” He declined to say more. The coalition’s Web site is crisp and professional. It calls the coalition “a growing group of consumers, businesses, trade groups, churches and others that believe 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 1, 2009