WASHINGTON — Legislation that would make it easier for certain community banks to access new sources of capital is on the move in Congress as part of an end-of-the-year push to find bipartisan job-creation measures.
After the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would shrink the number of community banks that are required to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Senate also appears poised to act.
In a sign of the strong bipartisan support for the measure, the Senate Banking Committee has asked the bill's co-sponsors, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, to testify at a hearing on Thursday.
"I think they want to move relatively quickly on this bill," Paul Merski, executive vice president and chief economist of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said in an interview Wednesday.
The ICBA has been pushing for several years to increase the number of shareholders that triggers a requirement that a bank register with the SEC. The threshold is currently 500, and the pending legislation would raise it to 2,000.
It is unclear how many community banks might benefit from such a change. In a survey, the ICBA found that 15%-20% of publicly traded banks that belong to the organization are concerned about the SEC registration threshold, Merski said.
Registration with the SEC costs small banks approximately $100,000 in the first year and about $50,000 in each successive year, the ICBA stated in recent congressional testimony.
"The expense is disproportionately large for community banks because they do not have the scale of larger institutions which are able to spread legal and compliance costs," the group said.
The Hutchison-Pryor legislation is one of several bills being touted as job-creation measures that will be discussed at Thursday's Senate hearing. In general, they would exempt certain businesses that are looking to raise new capital from securities registration requirements.
For example, a bill sponsored by Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., would encourage what is being called crowd-funding, by allowing an exemption for companies that raise small-dollar amounts from investors.
House versions of that bill and several others passed recently with overwhelming bipartisan support. The measure to allow more community banks to avoid SEC registration passed by a 420-2 margin.
It remains to be seen which of the House measures will be adopted by the Senate, where Democrats seem likely to push for certain assurances about investor protection. Nonetheless, legislation that would allow members of both parties to claim an achievement on job creation appears to be on a fast track.
Several of the bills won an endorsement Wednesday from the Financial Services Forum, which also released the results of a survey aimed at building support for the measures. The survey found that 15% of the small businesses surveyed said that problems in accessing capital were their biggest impediment to new hiring.
According to the survey, the problem is more acute in the high-tech sector than in other parts of the economy.
In a related matter on Wednesday, the House Financial Services Committee delayed its vote on a Republican-sponsored bill that would exempt public companies with a market capitalization of less than $500 million from certain auditing requirements under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus said in a press release that consideration of the bill was being delayed because several committee members were going to be absent.