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Virginia Politics
Posted at 03:41 PM ET, 03/07/2011

Consumer groups hit Saslaw over car title lending

The top Democrat in the Virginia state Senate is getting whacked by a coalition of consumer advocacy groups that are generally more often at odds with Republicans.

In a joint release, five organizations that lobby against predatory loaning practices took Sen. Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) to task for a bill he sponsored during the recently concluded legislative session to allow car title lenders to extend credit to out-of-state drivers.

Saslaw argued that a bill he sponsored in 2010 that imposed new regulations on car title lenders had been improperly interpreted by state regulators as imposing a new ban on out-of-state lending. He said his bill, which flew through the state Senate and was narrowly adopted by the House of Delegates, simply rectified that wrong.

But the groups — including Virginians Against Payday Loans, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Virginia Organizing, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and the Virginia Citizen’s Consumer Council — say that if signed into law by Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell (R), the legislation would make Virginia a regional hub for car title lending. Most of Virginia’s neighbors have essentially barred the practice, in which drivers in need of quick cash put their vehicles up as collateral for small loans with high interest rates.

“The Senator has worked to quash every bill introduced in the Senate that would have put reasonable ceilings on interest rates to help and protect Virginia consumers,” said Ben Greenberg, Legislative Director of Virginia Organizing. “These loans hurt families in desperate financial circumstances, suck money out of the economy and are widely condemned by business and consumer groups alike — in fact, almost everyone except the payday and car title lenders themselves.”

The release came in response to a Saslaw radio interview with Kojo Nnamdi on the Politics Hour on WAMU on Friday, in which Del. Glenn Oder (R-Newport News) called in and criticized Saslaw for sponsoring the legislation.

In the radio interview, Saslaw noted that he’d been praised by consumer groups for sponsoring the 2010 bill that capped car title lending rates at about 230 percent a year and required lenders to warn borrowers that they were taking out a high-interest loan that they would do best to quickly repay.

But that explanation did little for Ward Scull, the co-founder of Virginians Against Payday Loans.

“It is stunning that Senator Saslaw would pat himself on the back for shaving a fraction off interest rates that remain exorbitant and abusive,” he said in the release. “He did little for consumers. What he did was to entrench the grip of loan sharks who are feeding off of working families.”

Saslaw said Monday that he was puzzled at the groups’ reaction to a change in law that will only affect people who live outside Virginia.

“I find that a little bizarre,” he said. “These are the same people who applauded my bill last year. I don’t know why they’re even involved — it doesn’t affect a single Virginia citizen.”

By  |  03:41 PM ET, 03/07/2011

 
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