WASHINGTON - A third state legislature, Maryland's, has sent the governor a bill that would stop Wal-Mart Stores Inc. from opening branches of its own bank in its stores.
But it is unclear whether Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. will make it law, as Virginia's and Iowa's governors have done with similar measures.
The Maryland bill would block any commercially owned industrial loan company from branching into the state on the property of a commercial affiliate. Though Wal-Mart has said it plans to use its proposed ILC in Utah only for processing debit and credit cards, the bill is designed to stop it from retail branching if it later decides to expand its business plan.
A spokesman would not say if Gov. Ehrlich supports the bill, which cleared Maryland's House and Senate in early April, but observers noted that the Republican lawmaker has previously sided with Wal-Mart.
Last May he vetoed a bill that would have made the state's largest companies spend more on employee health care, saying the measure was directed solely at Wal-Mart. It is unclear if he feels the same way about the ILC bill, which was largely a response to Wal-Mart's application.
"I would hesitate to guess what Gov. Ehrlich would do on this bill," said Patrick Gonzales, a pollster with Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies of Annapolis, Md.
It is also unclear if a veto would stop the bill from being enacted. In January the largely Democratic state legislature overrode Gov. Ehrlich's veto of the health-care bill, and observers said it could do the same with the ILC measure.
Lawmakers fought last year over the health-care legislation, which was known as the "Wal-Mart bill," but opposition to the bank branching measure has been virtually nonexistent. The House passed its version unanimously.
"I don't see this bill to be that burdensome or onerous," Mr. Gonzales said.
Kathleen Murphy, the president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Bankers Association, said it hopes Gov. Ehrlich will sign. She said that the legislation does not target Wal-Mart alone but addresses the "broader issue of the ability of commercial companies to use the industrial loan company charter to get into the banking business.
"Wal-Mart's application has shined a spotlight on that broader issue," she said. "We're continuing our dialogue with the governor's office in the hope he will sign the bill."
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine signed his state's bill April 6, and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack signed that state's bill March 29. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is still considering Wal-Mart's application.
Mr. Gonzales said that the Maryland bill is the first of its kind to be sent to a Republican governor. As for the health-care bill, Gov. Ehrlich probably saw it as "government imposing a quota on an issue that many Republicans feel should be left to the market," he said.
At least five other states - Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Pennsylvania - are considering ILC bills, some of which could face legal challenges.
Federal law prohibits states from allowing interstate branching for one bank type and not another. But Ms. Murphy said that Maryland's bill, like the laws recently passed in Virginia and Iowa, is on firm legal footing. It would bar ILCs chartered out of state from opening branches on the grounds of a commercial affiliate but would not block stand-alone branches at other locations.
"We thought that was as far as we could go with legislation," Ms. Murphy said.
Measures pending before state legislatures, including those of Illinois and Missouri, are more stringent. They would bar any ILCs from doing business within their borders.