The Maryland Senate's select committee on savings and loans approved new thrift industry regulations today that critics said would invite some of the risky financial practices that sparked the severe S&L crisis last May.
Many of the key regulations approved by the Senate committee are considerably looser than stringent restrictions contained in an S&L reform bill already approved by the House of Delegates.
With Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) orchestrating the vote from the sidelines, the committee also narrowly passed a measure that exempts all state-chartered savings associations with less than $40 million in assets from three tough new regulations for one year.
"I think we've been sandbagged," Sen. Raymond E. Beck (R-Carroll) said after Steinberg rounded up missing committee members to approve the exemptions for smaller associations on a 7-to-6 vote.
Beck was one of several committee members who complained today that the Senate version of the proposed S&L reform bill was not as stringent as originally envisioned by its author, the special counsel who investigated the origins of Maryland's savings and loan crisis.
The House unanimously approved a version of the reform measure that left largely intact the recommendations of special counsel Wilbur D. Preston Jr.
Both the House and Senate versions would give sweeping new authority to the director of the state Division of Savings and Loan Associations and would mandate civil and criminal penalties against any state-chartered thrift that violates the division's new lending and investment rules.
The Senate panel today diverged from Preston's recommendations and from the House by approving a provision to let a thrift issue a loan to any controlling person, director or employe if the loan is secured.
Several committee members, who sharply criticized the provision as a loophole for risky "insider" loans, succeeded in stripping from the Senate version a section allowing an S&L to make $100,000 construction loans to directors and officers.
"Why is it necessary that we again set up these temptations to abuse depositors' dollars?" said Sen. F. Vernon Boozer (R-Baltimore County), who led the opponents.
Sen. Dennis F. Rasmussen, whose committee drafted the bulk of the changes in the Senate bill, said the new regulations contain enough safeguards to prevent another crisis in the thrift industry.
"To deny a simple loan, a very limited loan, to officers . . . would be going too far," said Rasmussen (D-Baltimore), noting that such construction loans are permitted under federal rules.
The Senate committee also approved provisions to restore the confidentiality of S&L stockholder lists, allow S&L approval of consumer loans and permit account overdrafts for thrift employes and their families.