House Committee Passes Reg Relief Bill

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The House Financial Services Committee unanimously passed the credit union-backed regulatory relief bill again last week, sending it on for a vote by the full House for a second time.

The House overwhelmingly approved an identical bill in the last Congress, but the bill died because the Senate failed to act on it.

Last week's action was not without its drama surrounding a controversial measure which would allow privately insured credit unions to join the Federal Home Loan Bank System.

As Committee Chairman Michael Oxley (R-OH) left the hearing room, credit union champion Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), a critic of private insurance, moved to eliminate the measure and his move was passed by the committee.

But when Oxley, a friend of Dublin, Ohio-based credit union insurer American Share Insurance, returned to the room he insisted that the matter be re-voted, and the committee agreed to put it back in the bill.

Despite its unanimous support, a 67-to-0 vote in favor, the bill does not include the top credit union priorities of creating a risk-based capital system and increasing the limit on member business loans for credit unions. Oxley and other supporters of the bill have been careful to leave those provisions, which are avidly opposed by the powerful banking lobby, from the bill because it would jeopardize final passage.

But House leaders agreed last week to consider the CU Regulatory Improvements Act-better known as CURIA-which does include those two provisions, as well as one which would make it harder for credit unions to convert to mutual savings banks.

"We got a commitment from leadership that they will hold hearings on CURIA after the first of the year," said Brad Thaler, chief lobbyist for NAFCU. "They told us they will look at the issues next year."

The bill passed last week by the committee includes more than a dozen provisions for credit unions, including: allowing federal charters to offer check cashing and wire transfers to non-members within their fields of membership; allowing credit unions to retain their select groups after converting to community charters; allowing NCUA, instead of Congress, to set limits on loan maturities and permissible credit union investments; exempting merging credit unions from the expensive antitrust reviews required under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act; and several measures that would ease corporate governance standards for credit unions.

But the bill is still a long-shot, as the Senate has yet to introduce its version and the bankers are only lukewarm about it.

CUNA lobbyist Gary Kohn said he hopes the full House can vote on the bill before the end of the year, but a full congressional calendar may make that difficult to do. "It's possible, if they stay (in session) deep into December," he said.

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