A House panel today cut short a legislative drive to lower credit card costs when it summarily killed a package of bills that would have limited interest rate charges and annual fees on the cards and otherwise regulated the industry.
Sponsors of the bills had joined statewide labor leaders in urging support, arguing that the banking deregulation measures enacted by the General Assembly just three years ago had done nothing to benefit consumers.
"The banking industry is the biggest crybaby industry there is. When the interest rates are high they want deregulation, but when the interest rates come down, you don't see them bringing down their fees," said Del. Gary Alexander (D-Prince George's), a sponsor of one measure.
But opponents, including state banking leaders and the Chamber of Commerce, said the bills would merely penalize the three banks that run their credit card operations in Maryland, leaving others untouched.
House Economic Matters Committee Chairman Frederick Rummage (D-Prince George's) told a reporter before the vote that the bills would die.
"I don't see how we can do that. All we're doing is penalizing the three companies in state that run credit card operations . The others out of state we have no control over," he said, due to a 1978 Supreme Court decision that legislators believe prohibits them from regulating rates of out-of-state credit card issuers.
The committee killed, by wide but shifting margins, all but one of the eight bills submitted. The remaining bill, which would require credit card issuers to disclose all charges in advertisements, was put on hold to determine if it could legally be applied to out-of-state banks.
Del. Gene Counihan (D-Montgomery), sponsor of that bill, said that he and other foes of high interest rates had proven their point despite the death of the bills.
"The existence of the bills is a pretty strong message that I think will have the effect of bringing rates down," he said.
The Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO, which says it represents 400,000 workers in the state, said it would steer its members toward Chevy Chase Savings and Loan, which is offering credit cards at a variable rate that is currently at 14 percent, unless other companies lower their rates.
"If Chevy Chase can do it, I think the others can, too," said Edward Lamon, president of the group. "If only half of our members switch their accounts, that's 200,000 accounts going to Chevy Chase."