HOUSE, BANKING COMMITTEE Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez's off-the-cuff remark to force credit unions to comply with community reinvestment laws has given industry lobbyists the jitters.

Rep. Gonzalez, D-Tex., said he wants the Community Reinvestment Act amended so it applies to credit unions.

He made the remarks in an interview last week at a banking conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in San Antonio.

"At this point, we would oppose it," said David John, director of legislative affairs for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions. "It doesn't fit with how credit unions are chartered. We were disappointed and somewhat concerned, since CRA is a statute that's geographically based, and most credit unions aren't organized along geographic lines."

Under the act, banks and thrifts must make a commitment toward offering financial services to low-income people in a designated area.

The crux of the opposition would rest on the structure of credit unions. Credit unions currently are forbidden to make loans to people outside their membership. So, lobbyists say, a revised act may require credit unions to widen their field of membership or to change their charters so they can make loans to nonmembers.

For credit unions to serve people, they have to get people in to join," said Charles O. Zuver, director of governmental affairs for the Credit Union National Association. "I can't imagine us being asked to serve nonmembers, because that changes the whole structure of the institutions."

Changes could open a Pandora's box of issues, ranging from whether credit unions should be taxed to whether regulations would be revised, Mr. Zuver said.

Industry lobbyists admit they don't know what to make of the proposal, in part, because it came up during a question-and-answer session and was not published in Rep. Gonzalez's prepared remarks.

Awaiting Word from Clinton Administration

A House Banking Committee staff aide said no plan exists to bring credit unions under CRA. The aide said the committee is seeking to revise CRA, but it is waiting for a statement on reforming the act from the Clinton administration.

One of those modifications may be incorporating credit unions, the aide said.

"The reason credit unions were exempted was because a credit union has a common bond," the aide said. "But there's a tendency with credit unions to expand their field of membership. The question is, are we going to apply CRA to credit unions that embrace a broad community as membership?"

Credit union lobbyists contend that the institutions they represent are already meeting the needs of their communities, so the regulation, along with being burdensome, would be unnecessary.

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