The financial reform debate in Washington is reverberating in Wisconsin, where banks and thrifts have joined forces to lobby for a new state charter.
Typically foes, the Wisconsin Bankers Association and the Wisconsin League of Financial Institutions are jointly pushing a bill that would allow state-chartered banks and thrifts to share powers that are now unique to each charter.
For example, the legislation would remove commercial lending restrictions on state-chartered thrifts, and allow state banks to invest in real estate.
The two groups decided to work together to guard against possible congressional action that could expand the powers of national banks.
"As things kept going in Washington, we said we should at least do what we can to protect state banks and thrifts in Wisconsin," said William D. Brouse, president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin League.
Institutions would have to pass the state's safety-and-soundness check to be eligible for the new charter, said Kurt Bauer, director of government relations for the Wisconsin Bankers.
Under the proposed legislation, state institutions could also seek permission to offer the same products and services as national banks. Bank regulators in 43 states already have this so-called wild card authority.
Wisconsin is one of many states working to strengthen its charter as federal deregulation continues, said Ellen Lamb, spokeswoman at the Conference of State Bank Supervisors. California, for example, has streamlined the regulatory process for state-chartered banks looking to close, open, or add branches.
The Wisconsin proposal most closely resembles the universal charter Maine created last year. All Maine-chartered banks, savings banks, and thrifts now have equal powers.
For Wisconsin's 335 state-chartered institutions, the bill would also eliminate considerable red tape.
"This means not having to notify the Department of Financial Institutions every time we do something, while still preserving the dual banking system," said Gary S. Harrop, president of Peoples State Bank, Mazomanie.
The unlikely alliance between the Wisconsin Bankers and the Wisconsin League impressed state regulators, who testified in support of the legislation at a hearing last week. Richard Dean, secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Financial Institutions, told lawmakers that the joint action is a sign that traditional banking industry roles are breaking down.
"The ability of our state's financial entities to be flexible is the genesis of this legislation," Mr. Dean said.
The proposal has also won the support of the Community Bankers of Wisconsin. With all the major trade groups on board, Mr. Bauer and Mr. Brouse are confident that the bill will be enacted.
It may not happen this year, however. Because the bill did not reach the Financial Institutions Committee until last week, the legislature may not consider the bill before its adjourns this month. Lawmakers could take up the proposal during a special session in April, bank trade group officials said.