Payday loan reform proponents submit signatures for ballot initiative - Word&Way

Payday loan reform proponents submit signatures for ballot initiative

JEFFERSON CITY — Proponents of a Nov. 4 ballot initiative to cap the annual percentage rate on short-term loans delivered voter signatures with just 20 minutes to spare May 6.

Missouri Rep. Mary Still, left, helps hold a sign during a brief news conference May 6, when volunteers turned in about 180,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office for a ballot initiative to cap the annual percentage rate on short-term loans. They also submitted about 175,000 signatures for another initiative to raise the state's minimum wage. Jim Hill with Missouri Faith Voices, center, praised volunteer efforts. (Photo by Vicki Brown)

They delivered approximately 180,000 signatures from registered Missouri voters to Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's office at about 4:40 p.m. Although they made their 5 p.m. deadline, they still face a battle challenging the legality of signatures under language struck down by a Cole County Circuit Court judge.

Judge Dan Green ruled April 5 that the petition summary, a synopsis of the proposal written by the secretary of state's office, was "insufficient," "unfair" and "likely to deceive petition signers."

Missourians for Responsible Lending, a group of faith-based and other organizations, has filed an appeal. The entity, supported by Kansas City-based Communities Creating Opportunity, Missouri Faith Voices and Jefferson City Congregations Uniting, has been leading the rate cap effort.

Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity, along with Missourians for Responsible Government, has fought the initiative drive. Charles Hatfield, an attorney with Stinson Morrison Hecker law firm in Jefferson City that represents the payday loan industry, observed the signature delivery.

"It's wrong for out-of-state companies to be getting richer," noted Jim Hill with Missouri Faith Voices in a brief press conference before the signatures were delivered. "It's certainly wrong to charge more than 400 percent interest."

Hill credited the hundreds of volunteers who assisted with signature gathering. The opposition "lied to and harassed voters on the street," he said.

According to Missourians for Responsible Lending, the payday lending industry circulated two similar petitions across the state in an attempt to confuse voters. Through a Texas law firm, Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity sent letters to clergy in Kansas City in January suggesting their churches could be in trouble for making "misleading claims." The organization also claimed congregations were jeopardizing their status with the IRS by participating in the reform movement.

Someone stole 5,000 signatures from a volunteer's car in Springfield during collection efforts a few weeks ago. Although no arrest has been made, reform proponents believe opponents are responsible because nothing more was taken from the vehicle.

Several attempts to affect reform through the state legislature have been made in the last 13 years, but most have died in committee. "When the legislators fail…, communities have stepped up to bring change," Hill said.

Rep. Mary Still (D-Columbia) has been among legislators who have worked for payday loan reform. "It's a sign of influence of wealthy lobbyists over legislators" that a bill has not passed, she told reporters.

This year, Rep. Still submitted House Bill 1294 to cap the rate at 36 percent, including interest, fees and finance charges. Sen. John Lamping (R-St. Louis County) is sponsoring Senate Bill 476, which lists a 75-percent cap.

Although signatures have been turned in, reformers still face a court battle. They have appealed Judge Green's ruling and anticipate the issue may go to the state's highest court. "I think we will be successful," Rep. Still said.

On May 6, volunteers also submitted approximately 175,000 signatures for a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Missouri.