WASHINGTON - The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision preempted state and local laws 67 times since the start 1994, according to a General Accounting Office report issued late last week.
House Banking Chairman Jim Leach had requested the report last fall in response to industry and state bank regulators' concerns about the procedures federal regulators use to override state and local statutes. In particular, state officials want the federal banking agencies to notify them before action is taken, let them provide input, and notify them of final decisions.
The GAO did not pass judgment on the practices of federal regulators nor make recommendations, but spelled out the laws that guide agency actions and where information is publicly available.
"Generally, both [the OTS and OCC] rendered opinions in response to a financial institution's request," the report said. "These opinions are advisory and subject to court challenge and review. The OTS has issued broad regulations preempting state law in certain areas and OCC has not," the 41-page report said.
One of the most recent was OTS' Dec. 7 opinion preempting a San Francisco that prohibited financial institutions from charging user fees on automated teller machine transactions. Other laws that have been overridden involved bank insurance sales, funeral trust services, and special taxes on mortgage customers.
Comptroller of the Currency John D. Hawke Jr. wrote in a letter to the GAO included in the report that "the OCC does not choose 'to preempt'; it is federal law that preempts."
The full report can be read at www.gao.gov or ordered by calling 202-512-6000.