Hot List: Day 105 of the Legislature


The Lead:

Senators struggled last week with Sen. John Carona’s (R-Dallas) legislation that would impose some watered-down regulations on the payday and auto-title lending industry. Carona’s bill, Senate Bill 1247, wouldn’t limit interest rates but would simply limit the number and size of loans that a person could take out, as the Observer’s Forrest Wilder explains.

Meanwhile the legislation would hand industry a major victory by preempting any city ordinance restricting payday loans, which have been known to charge 600 percent interest rates. Opponents of the bill say that it doesn’t do enough to regulate a predatory industry and could lead to new unhealthy lending practices.

When the bill first came to the Senate floor last Thursday, the debate wasn’t exactly smooth. Carona complained that two of his colleagues were working as “shills” for the industry, trying to turn votes against a relatively benign compromise bill. Carona eventually agreed to pull the bill down and wait over the weekend. There might have been a little lobbying going on this weekend. We’ll be watching for round two on payday loans in the Senate this afternoon to see if legislators are willing to make any changes to the lending practices in this state.

Weekend Headlines:

1. The fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, has environmentalists questioning whether regulations to monitor such chemical plants are too lax, The Texas Tribune reports.

2. Patti Kilday Hart reports in the Houston Chronicle that federal officials didn’t know that the fertilizer plant in West had so much ammonium nitrate on site. The plant had 270 tons of ammonium nitrate—1,300 times higher than the threshold that should have triggered federal oversight.

3. Lawmakers are considering two bills that would alter the retirement plans for teachers and state workers, including raising the retirement age. The Austin American-Statesman has the details.

4. Last week, lawmakers heard Rep. Matt Krause’s HB 360, which proposes to allow university student organizations to potentially restrict members based on, well, who they are. Kraus strenuously denied this was discrimination.

Line of the Day:

“The interests behind this bill have hired darn near every lobbyist in this town that needed employment. They are around every corner in this Capitol.” —Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) during last week’s debate on his payday loan bill, SB 1247.

What We’re Watching Today:

1. The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Matters will be hearing a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would require a 2/3 majority vote for the Legislature to raise taxes.

2. We’ll be watching the Senate to see if Sen. Carona’s payday loan bill reappears.