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Payday lending crackdown stalls in Ohio House

Less than 24 hours after Republican Cliff Rosenberger announced his resignation as Ohio House speaker, lawmakers delayed action on the strongest restrictions for payday lending that the state has considered in a decade.

State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, urged the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee to amend and pass House Bill 123 but committee members said they need more time to digest Koehler’s 27-page proposed amendment.

Related: Sources: Payday lending bill comes to life as Rosenberger faces probe

“I just decided that was the best way to approach it,” said state Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, R-Marysville, a committee member and legislative leader. When asked whether the bill would advance to a floor vote before lawmakers go on summer break, Chairman Bill Blessing, R-Cincinnati, said “Good question. I don’t know.”

Rosenberger’s resignation seem to be linked to inaction on House Bill 123 and an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While the bureau declined to confirm or deny an investigation, Rosenberger hired a criminal defense attorney because he heard the FBI was asking questions about his activities.

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Sources familiar with the investigation say the FBI is examining a four-day trip Rosenberger took to England in August 2017 that was sponsored by GOPAC Education Fund. Also on the trip were two lobbyists, Stephen Dimon and Leslie Gaines, who work for Select Management Resources, the parent company to lending companies. Factions of the payday lending industry have been trying to stall or weaken HB123 for months.

Rosenberger abruptly announced Tuesday that he is resigning as speaker and his seat effective May 1.

Ted Saunders, head of the company that owns CheckSmart, said lawmakers should delay action on HOuse Bill 123, which would place stricter limits on lenders. CheckSmart owns more than 90 stores in Ohio and 525 total nationwide. Photo by Laura Bischoff

Koehler offered a compromise amendment that he says will limit interest rates and fees and give consumers more time to payback loans.

Likewise, the Ohio Consumer Lending Association — a coalition of payday lenders — opposes Koehler’s amendment. Community Choice Financial Chief Executive Ted Saunders called the changes “unworkable.”

Related: Ohio voters may be asked to crack down on payday lenders

Related: Ohio couldn’t limit payday loans in the past. Can it now?

A decade ago, Ohioans voted by nearly a 2 to 1 margin in favor of capping payday loans at 28 percent APR. But payday lenders sidestepped the limits in place since 2008 by issuing loans under other sections of Ohio law. The result is that borrowers are paying annual interest rates of up to 591 percent — the highest in the nation according to some researchers.

Rosenberger told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that he was committed to pushing through reform, yet the bill stalled for more than a year.

“To our faces, Speaker Rosenberger has made repeated promises to us to quickly pass payday lending reform, but behind our backs he has done everything possible to oppose HB 123, or to transform it into something that actually benefits the payday lending industry,” said the Rev. Carl Ruby of Central Christian Church in Springfield who is a supporter of reforms. “The London trip that’s being investigated by the FBI shows where his true loyalties lie. Our research shows that he as directly accepted nearly $100,000 during the last two election cycles. Who knows how much he has channeled to others who are working to stall HB 123.”

Ruby added: “Now is the time for our legislators to show that they are more concerned about protecting Ohioans from predatory lenders, than in cozying up with out-of-state payday loan conglomerates that will pad their pockets and take them on lavish trips.”

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