The National Association of Federal Credit Unions wants Congress to overturn a recent court decision banning occupation-based credit unions from accepting members of unrelated companies.
But the plan could backfire.
Legislative tinkering with credit union laws would give banks a golden opportunity to slip in long-sought restrictive amendments, Charles O. Zuver, chief lobbyist for the Credit Union National Association, said Thursday.
The issue ignited July 30 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that AT&T Family Federal Credit Union may not accept as members people who work for unrelated companies.
Concerned that other credit unions would be forced to divest their unrelated employee groups, NAFCU lobbyists have been meeting with the staff of Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato and with House Democrats, seeking a legislative remedy.
"This whole thing cries out to Congress to fix it," said NAFCU president Kenneth Robinson, "so we're trying to determine what the possibilities are of getting something done."
The trade group represents about 900 federal credit unions, about 30% of which could be affected by the court's ruling. Roughly 1,400 more state- chartered credit unions could also be covered by the decision.
But CUNA, which is NAFCU's rival trade group, argues that trying to amend the law could be risky for credit unions in light of the banking industry's enduring effort to end credit unions' tax-exempt status and bring them under the Community Reinvestment Act.
"We shouldn't risk opening that door right now," Mr. Zuver said. "We still have time to figure something out; the court hasn't completed its action, plus Congress will be out of session soon and probably won't get back to legislating until February."
Pursuing a legislative fix "is inviting a great deal of trouble because the banks smell red meat on this one," added a Democratic aide to the House Banking Committee. "The (American Bankers Association) wouldn't hesitate to try to insert some language in there that would restrict credit unions."
ABA lobbyists were unavailable to comment Thursday. However, Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America, said the banking industry would oppose any effort by credit unions to get legislation overturning the AT&T decision.
"Any attempt to add a quick-and-dirty amendment to overturn the court decision would provoke a united, all-out press from the banking industry against it," Mr. Guenther said.
Separately, the National Credit Union Administration Tuesday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reverse a related ruling it made in the AT&T case last week.
The appeals court gave the ABA a green light to ask the trial court to apply the AT&T decision to the 2,000 occupation-based credit unions that serve unrelated employee groups. NCUA said the appellate court ought to give the agency more time to appeal the July 30 decision. The agency has announced it plans to continue approving membership expansions while the appeal is pending.
The AT&T lawsuit was filed in 1990 by the ABA and five North Carolina banks.