The House late Monday rejected legislation that would authorize the use of electronic signatures in transactions. The principal snag was a provision sought by the financial services industry that would permit companies to make mortgage and other disclosures required by federal consumer protection laws electronically -- instead of on paper.
Backed by consumer advocates, the White House and influential Democrats strongly opposed that provision.
"Consumers must be granted the same protections on-line that they currently receive off-line under existing laws and regulations," the Clinton administration said in a statement Monday. "Unfortunately, many Americans today do not enjoy reliable and regular access to the Internet."
The industry had argued that lenders would be required to get customer permission to use electronic records. But in blasting the House bill, the administration said consumers might not realize they would be signing away their rights to paper documents because the notice would not have to be conspicuous or clear. "This provision requires just an additional paragraph of small print in the form contract prepared by a business," its statement said.
The House bill was considered under rules for expedited approval that require a two-thirds majority; it fell four votes short. It is unclear whether the House bill will be revived, or if the Senate version will be voted on before Congress adjourns mid-month.
The software industry is pressing for passage this year of a scaled-down electronic signatures bill, but Kirk G. Willison, government affairs director at Countrywide Home Loans Inc., said financial firms would rather wait until next year for a broader bill. "If something passes now, we might not get another bite at the apple," he said.
Jeremiah S. Buckley, counsel for the Electronic Financial Services Council, said, "Not to be able to provide required disclosures and other documents associated with the transactions electronically would make the bill useless for most of the financial services industry."
Leslie A. Woolley resigned last week from the Investment Company Institute, where she had been the mutual fund trade group's chief lobbyist for nearly two years.
Wasting no time, the group on Monday named Donald J. Morrissey as her successor.
Mr. Morrissey has been a lobbyist for the Investment Company Institute since 1995.
A trade group spokesman said Ms. Woolley had left to pursue other interests and that her leaving was amicable and uncoerced. In a phone interview, Ms. Woolley declined to discuss the reason for her departure, except to say: "ICI had a really successful legislative session. I just decided it was time to go do something else."
For now, Ms. Woolley said she plans to spend extra time with her 18-month-old daughter, Ann.
The American Bankers Association hired Bryce Quick last week as its top lobbyist on rural and agricultural issues. He succeeds Kate Coler, who held the post two and a half years and left in July to become government relations director of the Food Marketing Institute.
Mr. Quick spent the last 18 months as senior director of legislative affairs for the American Nursery and Landscape Association.
He handled banking issues for former House Speaker Thomas S. Foley for four years in the early 1990s and later was a staff member of the House Agriculture Committee.