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February 8, 2012

Take Me To Your Leader

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

On Jan. 27, state Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, filed House Bill 332, which would put a 36 percent cap on the annualized interest rate of payday loans. Advocates say this measure would prevent consumers from being trapped in a spiral of debt.

In 2011, the bill was defeated by a 10-13 vote in the House Banking and Insurance Committee. This year, however, supporters of the legislation tell LEO that Democratic committee chairman Rep. Jeff Greer has indicated he will not even give the bill a hearing.

Greer reportedly told the Rev. Marian McClure Taylor, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches (a major backer of the bill), that he would not do so because the legislation was “decisively defeated” last year, suggesting they instead try their luck in the Senate this time.

“I was surprised and dismayed by what Rep. Greer had to say about this,” Taylor says. “It had never occurred to those of us working on this for months now that we wouldn’t get another hearing in the House. After all, we’ve been seeing positive movement on the topic in the legislative committee and in the churches.”

The Kentucky Baptist Convention passed a resolution in favor of the legislation in November, and Rep. Ron Crimm, R-Louisville, who voted against the bill last year, is now co-sponsoring the legislation.

Despite previously voting against the bill, Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, and Rep. Dennis Horlander, D-Louisville, tell LEO they are more open to supporting the measure this time around. Rep. Dwight Butler, R-Harned, who abstained from voting last year, also says he’s more receptive.

“At this point, I am probably leaning toward it,” Butler says. “I still have a few questions for the sponsors and different people, but I think the concept is good.”

Five additional committee members — four of whom are Democrats — who were either not present or abstained during the vote last year have not come out publicly for or against the bill; they did not respond to requests for comment.

The Rev. Pat Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, says Greer also told him he would not give the bill a hearing because neither Owens nor Democratic House leadership have spoken to Greer about the bill.

“Well I can solve that today,” Owens says. “The reason I haven’t is because he said he wasn’t going to hear it, and there was no point in talking to him as far as I was concerned.”

Rep. Greer has not responded to multiple inquiries from LEO.

As for Greer’s suggestion that advocates try the bill in the Senate, they are understandably pessimistic about that option: Of the 11 members on the Senate Banking Committee, seven are Republicans.

•••

Senate Bill 103, the perennial bill that would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound first — conservatives’ double play of both shaming women and insulting their intelligence — will soon pass the state Senate easily (again) and make its way over to the House.

Though the bill has repeatedly been stopped in the House Health and Welfare Committee, LEO has heard multiple whispers from Frankfort that a deal may be in the works to move the bill to the State Government Committee, where it would stand a better chance of passing.

Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, who chairs the Health and Welfare Committee, says he hasn’t heard any word of that and doesn’t think it will happen.

“It would be a contradiction to everything else they’ve done,” says Burch, who has voted against the bill in recent years. “I mean, if they set that precedent, they might as well just send these bills wherever they want to, you know.”

Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, the chairman of the State Government Committee, says he has no knowledge of plans for the bill to be sent to his committee, but admits that many would like to see it end up there.

“Well, I don’t want to get into who would and who wouldn’t,” Cherry says. “I think those who are supportive of that legislation feel that it would have a better opportunity of passage in my committee than in Burch’s. They are probably correct. However, I haven’t gone and — person-to-person — gauged my membership on that.”

The committee has a Democratic majority, but enough of them are socially conservative to make it a tight vote. If passed and sent to the full House, it would stand an even better chance of passing.

Cherry says he hasn’t talked with House Speaker Greg Stumbo about the bill, but he “could support that legislation.”

The lead sponsor of SB 103, Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, would not confirm or deny whether he’s heard the bill might go to Cherry’s committee. But Bowen did reveal that its companion legislation, Senate Bill 102 — requiring an in-person consultation 24 hours prior to an abortion — “may be on track” for that committee.

“Hopefully these two pieces of legislation would follow the same path,” he says.

A representative from Stumbo’s office tells LEO they won’t begin to consider where to assign any Senate bills — including SB 103 — until they are passed and sent to the House.

Wheeling and dealing among leadership of both parties is a common practice in Frankfort, but those who trust women to make their own decision without government interference are hopeful that Stumbo — who is known to be looking for support to make the private University of Pikeville a public school — doesn’t cut a deal to send this bill Cherry’s way. 

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