Credit and interest-rate issues, expected to be a focus for the only substantive business-consumer legislation considered by the Maryland and Virginia legislatures this year, dominated sessions last week in Annapolis and Richmond.
The Maryland Senate is scheduled to vote this week on a bill that would prevent credit card companies from charging annual membership fees, a proposal that would conflict with a ruling last week by a Baltimore judge that such charges are legal.
The Senate gave preliminary approval to the bill Thursday, a day after the ruling by Baltimore City Judge Marshall Levin gave banks the right to charge annual fees on credit cards in addition to interest charges. The bill is expected to reach the floor for a final vote today or Tuesday. Similar legislation is pending in the House of Delegates.
Sen. Joseph Bonvegna (D-Baltimore) introduced the bill last summer, a week after six Maryland banks, including Suburban Trust of Hyattsville and Maryland National (the state's largest), said the would charge annual fees for holders of MasterCards and Visa cards.
Attorney General Stephen Sachs ruled the charges were illegal, prompting a court suit that resulted in a ruling Wednesday that the banks could charge the annual fees. Many legislators were disturbed because some banks announced the new fees shortly after the legislature approved higher interest rates on consumer loans last year. Gov. Harry Hughes told his weekly news conference that "if they had planned to raise those fees, they should have mentioned it when they were here before the legislature."
In Richmond, meanwhile, a Virginia House committee heard testimony in favor of legislation to increase to 24 percent from 18 percent the legal interest rate ceiling on credit card sales. Among other legislative developments:
Cries of protest came from the city of Portsmouth Thursday over a bill which could put the operation of all state-owned port facilities under the thumb of the Virginia Port Authority. The measure is a result of a three-year study of Virginia ports which recommends public operation to favorably compete with other East Coast ports.
The VPA. a state agency, already operates port facilities in Norfolk and Newport News. But it leases its facility in Portsmouth to a private operator. Sen. Willard Moody (D-Portsmouth) expressed concern that if the current 5-year lease is not renewed and the VPA takes over the operation, Portsmouth's already dwindling tax base will dwindle still further. State-operated facilities are tax-exempt.
Proposed attempts in Maryland to regulate the buying and selling of gold and silver would do more harm than good for the precious-metals industry, a state senator said. Sen. Patrick Welsh (D-Baltimore County) asserted that six bills being considered by the Senate Jucicial Proceedings Committee in an effort to stem the increase in thefts of gold and silver would "hurt the people you're trying to protect."
The bills would force dealers to forward records of every purchase they made to police. They also would be required to hold onto all items they bought for at least 15 days while police checked to see if they were stolen.
This week's business-related committee hearings in the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies: Maryland Senate
Tuesday: Economic Affairs Committee meets at 10 a.m. in Room 200, James Office Building, to consider legislation pertaining to unemployment insurance and benefits.
Wednesday: Economic Affairs Committee meets at 10 a.m. in Room 200, James Office Building, to take up legislation on the licensure of investment home builders and the licensing and regulation of home improvement firms.
Thursday: Economic Affairs Committee meets at 10 a.m. in Room 200, James Office Building, to consider legislation relating to insurance. Maryland House
Tuesday: Economic Matters Committee meets 1p.m. in Room 150, Lowe Office Building, to hold hearings on several banking bills.
Ways and Means Committee meet at 1:30 p.m. in Room 110, Lowe Office Building, to consider income tax legislation.
Wednesday: Appropriations Committee meets at 11 a.m. in Room 130, Lowe Office Building, to consider pension legislation.
Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee meets at 1 p.m., Room 140, Lowe Office Building, to hold hearings on bills relating to state contracts, procurement and zoning.
Economic Matters Committee meets at 1 p.m. in Room 150, Lowe Office Building, ot consider legislation pertaining to interest and mortgage rates, savings and loans, credit unions and the Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority.
Ways and Means Committee meets at 1:30 p.m. in Room 110, Lowe Office Building, to consider several property tax-related bills.
Thursday: Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee meets at 1 p.m. in Room 140, Lowe Office Building, to hold hearings on workmen's compensation legislation.
Economic Matters Committee meets at 1 p.m. in Room 150, Lowe Office Building, to consider bills, including ones relating to title insurance and the Maryland Economic Development Revenue Bond Act. VIRGINIA SENATE (Standing Committees)
Monday: Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, 9 a.m., Senate Room A, General Assembly Bldg.
Commerce and Labor Committee, 2 p.m., Senate Room B, General Assembly Bldg.
Tuesday: Finance Committee, 10 a.m., Senate Room B, General Assembly Bldg.
Wednesday: Finance Committee, 10 a.m., Senate Room B, General Assembly Bldg.
Thursday: Transportation Committee, 2 p.m., Senate Room B, General Assembly Bldg. VIRGINIA HOUSE (Standing Committees)
Monday: Finance Committee, one half hour after adjournment, Room D, General Assembly Bldg.
Appropriations Committee, Monday through Friday, 45 minutes after adjournment, appropriations Room, General Assembly Bldg.
Tuesday: Corporations, Insurance and Banking Committee, 10 a.m., Room 4, Capitol.
Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee, 9:30 a.m., Room C, General Assembly Bldg.
Wednesday: Agriculture Committee, 3 p.m., Room 2, Capitol.
Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, 10 a.m., Room 4, Capitol.
Finance Committee, one half hour after adjournment, Room D, General Assembly Bldg.
Labor and Commerce Committee, 10 a.m., Room 2, Capitol.
Thursday: Corporations, Insurance and Banking Committee, 10 a.m., Room 4, Capitol.
Health, Welfare and Institutions, 9:30 a.m., Room C, Capitol.