A bill to outlaw membership fees on bank credit cards sailed through the Maryland Senate today with only one dissenting vote, a sign of the tough, new regulatory stance toward the banking industry.
Several senators used the occasion to preach antibank sentiments, in stark contrast to the atmosphere last year when the legislature raised interest rates on loans and credits, as requested by the banking lobby.
"I've nicknamed this bill the mea culpa bill," Sen. Jack Lapides (D-Baltimore) said to his colleagues, as the bill came up for a vote. "It gives the legislature a chance to say what a stupid mistake we made last year." g
The lone dissenter in the 43-to-1 vote was Sen. Peter Bozick (D-Prince George's) who said he supports the bill in principle, and only voted against it because he fears that it is poorly drafted and will not accomplish its purpose.
The bill now goes to the House, where it is said to have some support, although not as much as in the Senate.
The regulatory fever peaked last week when a state judge ruled that federally insured banks in Maryland can charge up to 33 percent on an unpaid credit card balance of $500 -- almost twice the 18 percent interest-rate ceiling the legislature passed last year.
The judge ruled that federal banking law and recent higher court decisions have superseded much of the state's authority to regulate banks. The ruling came in a suit filed by six banks last year in an attempt to force the state to allow $15 membership fees for bank credit-card customers. The successful lawsuit galled many legislators, who said they felt the banks had gotten enough assistance from the relaxed interest-rate ceilings.
State Sen. Harry McGuirk (D-Baltimore) said he asked legislative aides today to draft three bills that he plans to introduce in an attempt to reestablish state control over Maryland banks and their credit-card operations. The bills will reestablish much state control over state chartered, federally insured banks. Federal laws and court rulings restrict the state's ability to control national banks, however, McGuirk said