With the blessing of the state's commercial banks, California lawmakers once again are mulling a bill that would create a state savings bank charter.
The state's thrifts lobbied for similar legislation last year, only to see it defeated amid opposition from the California Bankers Association.
The trade group recently changed its position after analyzing the bill and its impact on commercial banks. In addition, an amendment was inserted that would extend the powers of the new charter to state-chartered commercial banks.
"We don't think this new charter creates any competitive advantages," said Gregory O. Wilhelm, director of government relations at the California Bankers. "The parity regulation provides us with some comfort."
The Western League of Savings Institutions says California needs the new charter in case Congress abolishes the federal thrift charter. More than 30 states have savings bank charters.
The charter would permit a broad range of activities-from credit cards to investment services to insurance-and require that 50% of an institution's loans be consumer-oriented.
"It's nothing revolutionary," said Edward Levy, legislative counsel for the Western League, "and we don't think it poses a threat to commercial banks."
Last year the California Bankers Association vigorously lobbied to kill the bill, arguing that the new charter would give state savings banks an unfair advantage over commercial banks.
Commercial banks were also concerned about insurance. Unlike the federal thrift charter-in which thrifts are insured by the Savings Association Insurance Fund-the proposed savings bank charter would be backed by the Bank Insurance Fund.
The California Bankers dropped their concerns this year after an amendment was included that would let state-chartered commercial banks ask for any new powers granted to savings banks by the Department of Financial Institutions.
Officials from both the Western League and California Bankers expect the bill to face little opposition in the Legislature. The bill, which is still being drafted, is scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee on April 19.
Not all of the state's bank trade groups are backing the bill. Craig Hudson, executive director of the California Independent Bankers, said his members are waiting for the final revision before taking a position.
He questioned one provision that would allow savings banks to buy equity securities on Wall Street. Commercial banks are typically limited to investing in government-related bonds and securities.
"We don't understand the motivation behind the bill," said Mr. Hudson. "We're still sniffing it out."