APRIL 8, 2016
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Legislature State Legislative Wrap-Up: Proactive Bills for Credit Unions On Way to Governor (Issue 1 of 6)
In the course of a busy legislative session involving thousand of pieces of legislation, three bills of particular importance to Georgia credit unions survived the process and are now awaiting the governor's signature to become law.

 
     
  State Legislative Wrap-Up: Bills Lobbied and Amended to Protect Credit Unions that Passed (Issue 2 of 6)
To protect credit union interests, GCUA attended hundreds of hearings during the session and lobbied effectively on behalf of the industry, promoting favorable amendments and advocating for removal of negative elements.

 
  State Legislative Wrap-Up: Bills Lobbied, Modified, or Mitigated - No Final Passage by Day 40 (Issue 3 of 6)
Like the large majority of bills introduced each legislative session, several with potential impact on credit unions did not survive, for one or more reasons, but they could return in the future.

 
  Pushing Congress for Regulatory Relief (Issue 4 of 6)
A U.S. Senate committee hearing on consumer finance regulations featured testimony on the high cost and unintended negative consequences of over-regulation, including a multibillion-dollar burden on the credit union industry.

 
  Election Season Is Here: Use this Free Resource for Your Members (Issue 5 of 6)
Getting out the vote is a key component of credit unions' advocacy efforts, and GCUA's ElectionWatch website, available at no charge, offers valuable resources to assist in this crucial task.

 
  Credit Unions in the News (Issue 6 of 6)
The credit union message continues to spread, as evidenced by coverage of the industry in a wide range of media outlets, from newspapers to magazines to the broadcast media.

 
 
 
State Legislative Wrap-Up: Proactive Bills for Credit Unions On Way to Governor
(Issue 1 of 6)

The state legislative session ended on March 24th, bringing a close to the second half of a two-year legislative cycle. This session was a challenging yet productive session for credit unions. Part of the challenge was the sheer number of issues: There were more than 360 bills lobbied and monitored on behalf of credit unions with more than 4,600 bills analyzed for potential impact to the industry. Given the large amount of bills and issues in this session of interest to credit unions, this final “wrap-up” is divided into three articles:

  1. Bills introduced to help credit unions that passed and await the Governor’s signature,
  2. Bills amended, lobbied and worked in the process to protect credit unions that passed, and
  3. Those bills that were lobbied, amended and worked, but did not pass by day 40.

On the bills that were introduced to help credit unions, we are pleased to share that all three priority bills for our industry passed and are en route to the Governor for his consideration. These major issues lobbied on behalf of Georgia credit unions were:

Willard
State Rep. Wendell Willard

The Credit Union Clarification for Lending/Operation Procedures Bill, HB 759 by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), passed the full Senate on the last evening of the session. This bill was lobbied heavily throughout the session to move it forward as it is beneficial to every credit union in the state:

  • It clarifies that credit unions are included in the unauthorized practice of law exemption for financial institution operations, which is the exemption that allows credit unions to lend, initiate HELOCs, discuss issues with members, and address compliance issues without requiring an attorney to be present.

This bill was introduced by Rep. Willard at the request of GCUA to proactively improve the definition in existing law, and protect credit unions in their operations.

Garnishment Process Overhaul Bill (SB 255) by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) passed the full House and Senate on Thursday, March 24th and is anticipated to be one of the first bills the Governor signs into law. This bill is essential for Georgia credit unions as in 2015, a federal judge ruled the garnishment statute unconstitutional in the state, thereby halting garnishments in some counties and spreading to more areas. Key points on the bill:

  • The legislation corrects Georgia’s garnishment law through a complete rewrite of how garnishments are processed in the state (and not a small change).
  • As this is an overhaul of the law, there will be changes in credit union procedures in processing garnishments, with new notices to provide (the court case centered around the lack of notice to consumers).
  • A final amendment to the bill was added on March 15th to provide credit unions and others more time to respond to garnishment notices on accounts:
    • The bill originally stated 24 hours to assess the account; it now would provide credit unions five days to check the account and another 10 days to respond.
  • Even with this last amendment to minimize impact to credit unions, GCUA continued to work to ensure that what is being sought by the Legislature was not changed to inadvertently require that only attorneys be utilized in responding to garnishments.

Once signed by the Governor the law will become effective 30 days afterwards – so changes will be implemented soon, and garnishments can begin again quickly in those areas where they were stopped.

Williamson
State Rep. Bruce Williamson

Credit Union Law Enhancements in the Department of Banking and Finance's Housekeeping Bill (HB 811) by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) creates multiple revisions to the law that that applies to credit unions, banks and other financial entities. Around 11:48 pm on the last day of the session, the bill cleared its final procedural hurdle with its last vote in the Senate, and once signed into law it will:

  • Streamline the federal parity section for credit unions that was successfully procured in 2015,
  • Outline a set process in which a credit union can remove or suspend a director,
  • Create a basis for the department's purview over virtual currency,
  • Outline a procedure for credit unions to hold real estate in specific instances subject to a majority vote of its directors without prior approval of the department, and
  • Remove prohibitions for state-chartered institutions against a fee for checks drawn on that institution.



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State Legislative Wrap-Up: Bills Lobbied and Amended to Protect Credit Unions that Passed (Issue 2 of 6)

In addition to the above bills introduced to help the industry, credit unions are pulled into a wide variety of issues in the state Legislature. With 990 registered lobbyists representing more than 3,200 different industries at the state Capitol (and hundreds of constituent groups each day), one can see how the majority of issues are influenced by external factors outside of credit unions, and often unknown until they happen (either introduced as bills, or innocuous bills amended in the process in a manner that impacts the industry). GCUA attended more than 200 hearings in the course of the session, the bulk of which were attended for this issue alone – ensuring that what is being sought by other industries does not negatively impact how credit unions operate today and in the future. Below are some of the issues that GCUA lobbied, amended, monitored and worked to protect credit unions:

Stone
State Sen. Jesse Stone

Firearms Dealer Anti-Financial Discrimination: HB 1060 by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), one of the various gun bills in the Legislature, became the “vehicle” in the final days of the session for the Firearms Dealer and Manufacturer Discrimination Act SB 282 by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro). This legislation is being pursued by the gun industry in states around the country to send a message to the federal government and regulators against "Operation Choke Point" actions, and was lobbied heavily by GCUA throughout the process to obtain amendments and remove language that would have negatively impacted credit unions.

The bill originally would have allowed a private right of action, a special class of lawsuit against any financial institution that discriminates against a gun retail establishment by refusing or ceasing to serve. That language was removed due to concerns of credit unions and others in testimony. GCUA continued to work against the gun industry to obtain specific for credit unions that outline that it is not considered discrimination to follow law, regulation, or for denial of service due to membership restrictions. In addition, the bill was also amended to create parity language between state and federal charters – if  federal regulators pre-empt federal charters from the reach of the bill, state chartered institutions will have an avenue to be pre-empted as well.

Water Liens: On March 15th the House passed SB 206 by Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick). This bill addressed water liens on commercial property that are unknown to the new owner/tenant, and would provide an avenue for a purchaser to uncover whether there are any liens on the property – and an avenue to extinguish those liens if they are not shared at the onset. LegislatureOriginally this bill contained a problematic provision that would have created issues with the priority lien status of credit unions and other financial institutions. After GCUA addressed this concern with Sen. Ligon, he removed the onerous language from the bill, and it was continually monitored to protect credit union lending operations.

Tax Liens: HB 51 by Rep. Tommie Benton (R-Jefferson) seeks to prevent individuals from being forced to pay homeowner association fees with no means of recourse if purchasing a tax lien on a property. This bill has been around for several years, and GCUA had spoken with Rep. Benton early to address concerns and help craft language that would make it clear what he sought to do. And for years, this legislation has been monitored closely as it is a vehicle for homeowner associations’ superseding lien language to try to require foreclosing parties to pay past-due fees.

Real Estate Transfer Tax: The House passed a bill on March 24th that has been monitored by GCUA through the process continually as it opens the section of code pertaining to the real estate transfer tax – HB 364 by Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin). This bill was watched closely throughout 2015 and the 2016 committee process to ensure that it did not change any provisions for credit unions, and was utilized instead to address incorrect taxation on airport vendors.

Teasley
State Rep. Sam Teasley

College Savings Accounts: On the last day of the session HB 802 by Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) was finally passed after the long process to head to the Governor’s desk. This bill will increase the tax deduction on contributions to 529 savings accounts in an effort to encourage families to save for college, something GCUA supported in the process.

Accounts for Disabled: Also on the last day, HB 768 by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) cleared its final hurdle and goes to the Governor’s desk. This bill seeks to allow Georgia to participate in the new federal program designed to help disabled individuals save for qualified expenses (ABLE accounts). In the hearing process back in February, the tax credit language for depositors was removed from the bill and will just allow Georgia the opportunity to participate in the federal program.

Real Estate Transactions: On March 22nd the Senate passed HB 869 by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) to bring Georgia in line with federal laws with the various changes with mortgage disclosures and privacy requirements, removing out of date provisions that require real estate agents to deliver closing statements to sellers and maintain the documents in their files. This bill was monitored closely to ensure that there were no amendments by others to alter the mortgage lending process in the state.

Large Dollar Pooling: On March 7th the House passed SB 283 by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon). This bill, concerning the state Treasury, makes a technical adjustment to the formula for large dollar pools of public funds (such as UGA’s deposits) due to Basel III changes. While not applicable to credit unions, it was a bill where GCUA fielded questions with legislators in the Capitol and monitored to ensure it did not change to impact credit unions.

Ignition Interlock Devices: HB 205 by Rep. Tom Rice (R-Norcross) was one of the few bills to successfully make it through a conference committee (where a bill passes both the Senate and House in different versions, and the bill is then rewritten in private by three Senators and three Representatives for a yes or no vote). While the bill was directed at DUIs, GCUA monitored to ensure that there were no overreaching restrictions that would be enacted that could impact the second-chance auto lending programs in place at credit unions around the state that use these devices.

Property: On the last day of the session HB 1004 by Rep. Rick Jaspers (R-Jasper) passed; this bill seeks to modernize how records can be filed at the court and opened provisions that apply to condo associations as well as normal mortgage lending, and was monitored closely due to the topic (as any unwanted changes could have impacted lending operations).

Boards of Directors: SB 128 by Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) was a 2015 bill that received its final procedural vote in the evening hours of the last day after it had no action all year, proving everything is “live” until the last second of the session! This bill makes a variety of changes to how boards of directors operate and was to protect against any negative language being added, including language that could increase liability of board members.

Payment Processing Companies: SR 883 by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) seeks to create a study committee to analyze the payments processing industry in Georgia, and what the state can do to invest in the market. GCUA was at hearings for this bill in the final two days of the session, where it finally passed and then cleared Rules and then the full House before the close of the night.

Auto Lemon Law: HB 871 by Rep. Robert Dickey (R-Musella) seeks to alter Georgia's "Lemon Law," changing where the $3.00 fee paid by consumers after purchasing a new auto from a dealer is sent. This bill was monitored to protect against unwanted amendments on auto lending practices.

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State Legislative Wrap-Up: Bills Lobbied, Modified, or Mitigated - No Final Passage by Day 40 (Issue 3 of 6)

The vast majority of bills introduced do not make it through the process, and daily bills failed by votes on the floor or in committee hearings. But more often than not, bills “die” in the process by not being selected by a committee for action, or a delay in time in which they are selected. Any delay can derail a bill’s path, and if a bill loses momentum, that loss of time often is the death nail in the bill’s chance to become law. That is prior to any consideration of what the bill does, or the level of opposition against it! But regardless, any bill that impacts credit unions must be lobbied to address issues, and monitored throughout the session. Below are examples of these bills that did not make it through the process, but could return in the future:

Hill
State Sens. Elena Parent (left) and Hunter Hill (right)

EBT Cards and ATMs: SB 389 by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) was directed at ensuring that individuals do not abuse welfare benefits. GCUA worked with Sen. Hill to address an unwanted amendment that restricted EBT card use at ATMs (and placement of ATMS). Sen. Hill was receptive to credit union concerns, and rewrote that section to ensure that credit unions would not be forced to police the issue, and clarified that the bill is only referencing food stamp benefits, which are not “cash value” cards or accessible at ATMs regardless. The bill was one of the many to be considered on the last day, but was not selected for a vote. Another bill on this topic was HB 847 by Rep. David Clark (R-Buford) on expanding the penalties to those who commit public assistance fraud. GCUA spoke with Rep. Clark early in the process to ensure that the bill would not inadvertently create compliance burdens.

Tax Reform: There have been several hearings throughout the past several years on tax reform, seeking to lower the income tax rate for the state and eliminate or reduce several deductions to “pay” for the lower state tax rate. This is a perennial topic in Georgia that is monitored to protect against any attempts to alter the tax status of credit unions. A few of these bills from 2016:

  • The Senate amended an aquarium tax credit bill, HB 238, that was introduced by Rep. Ben Harbin (who retired in 2015) with the entire text of SB 280, tax reform legislation by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) that sought to cap the mortgage interest deduction to pay for a personal income tax cut on individuals. The House did not bring up the bill for consideration.
  • On March 7th the Senate Finance Committee passed SR 988 by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), which only urges the federal and state government to shift their income tax structure to the Fair Tax structure.
  • Rep. Emory Dunahoo (R-Gillsville) introduced HB 1141, the Georgia Fair Tax Act, on March 14th. While the bill was introduced too late in the session to see action, it is worth noting that the bill would expand the sales tax to a variety of new items not taxed presently, including financial transaction fees and services. The issue will continue to be monitored.

Notaries: HB 381 by Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough) was one of many bills that did not make it out of the final Rules Committee selection process. This bill, which had been pursued for three years by Rep. Welch and the Clerks of Court, sought to overhaul and modernize the process by which one becomes a notary public. It would require training and background checks as well as detailed (10 years) record-keeping by the notary. Throughout the process the bill has been amended multiple times to make it less burdensome, and to ensure that regular business operations at financial institutions are safe.

Boat Titling: HB 356 by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) sought to bring boats under the same TAVT and titling process the state has with autos. GCUA was involved in the preliminary discussions among interested parties back in 2014 on this issue. However, it was clear then that the bill had an uphill battle – not due to boat titling, but to the uncertainty of the distribution of tax proceeds. All of the debate in that first meeting, as well as every hearing on the bill since, centered on TAVT issues and concerns of where TAVT funds would be sent between area of purchase, residence or locale of use – and proved to be too much weight for the bill. It did not make it past the initial committee process.

Legislature

Blighted Properties: SB 422 by Sen. JaNice VanNess (R-Conyers) forced upkeep of neglected properties, outlined prescriptive requirements for the owner, and directed the county to pay for any noncompliance upkeep with a lien and/or foreclosure on the property. On the day the bill was introduced, Sen. VanNess procured a quick hearing but it did not move forward. Sen. VanNess then introduced two separate study committee resolutions that would create the window for legislation similar to this in 2017. One of these, SR 1098, made it through the process and will be monitored in the off session.

Power of Attorney: HB 918 by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) and SB 397 by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) both sought to modernize the power of attorney statutes (including financial power of attorney). Curbing elder financial abuse was cited as the motive behind the bills. However, the practical application of the legislation creates operational issues for credit unions and others as it would tie the hands of financial institutions in speaking out when they see instances of fraud. Neither bill moved forward but they are expected to do so in 2017, as Sen. Hill spoke on this issue on the last day of the session, remarking that some financial institutions are not helping stop fraud.

Tax Executions: There were multiple bills this session that sought to change the law on tax executions, create a tax lien digest, or regulate how property is handled. From a credit union perspective these were monitored and any issues that would impact credit unions addressed. However, all but one failed to move forward (see above HB 51):

  • HB 938 by Rep. Brian Prince (D-Augusta) would address blighted properties by providing the purchaser of a tax lien the ability to recoup the reasonable cost of upkeep of the property (did not move past the House Judiciary Committee process). 
  • HB 653 by Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta) did not pass a House Ways and Means hearing once it was uncovered that the intent was to allow a private debt collector the ability to supersede all liens (including those of financial institutions).
  • HB 912 by Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), which sought to create a tax lien digest that would house all tax liens in the state, failed to move forward in the House Ways and Means committee.

Cybersecurity: This was an issue that received a lot of attention in the off session, with multiple hearings during the summer and fall. This topic will likely continue and will be monitored as it creates the avenue for those industries who seek to mandate chip-and-PIN cards at Georgia financial institutions. Some of the bills of 2016 included:

  • The main bill for creating state-level cybersecurity requirements this session was SB 276 by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), which sought to set provisions and time frames for notifying consumers in the event of a data breach, and had provisions for those companies who are already regulated for this. This bill stalled in the committee process.
  • SB 306 by Sen. PK Martin (R-Lawrenceville) sought to remove notice of consumers by phone for identity theft notification, and would have prohibited a consumer reporting agency from charging for a credit freeze in the event of a data breach on the consumer. It did not move forward.
  • SR 360 by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) would create a study committee to meet during the off session to analyze what the state should do to help curb data breaches and strengthen Georgia’s protections of consumers' personal information.
  • SB 321 by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta) sought to increase protections against public disclosure of consumer information held at the state level.

New Homeowner Solicitations HB 914 by Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) sought to increase consumer awareness of those that attempt to coerce new mortgage holders into paying money for a copy of the instrument conveying real estate. The bill would require them to state that the notice is a solicitation. It moved through the committee process but did not “cross over” by day 30.

Title Pawn and Georgia Industrial Loan Act Provisions: HB 1001 by Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) and SB 371 by Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-McDonough) sought to make changes to pawnbroker provisions and allow for an installment loan that can be paid monthly as opposed to a one-time payment. Somewhat similar in nature was HB 891 by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) which would have provided for alternative charges for industrial loans and changed the description of industrial loans to installment loans. While neither of these two issues passed, the topic was one that resurfaced as an amendment on an unrelated bill in the final days of the session before it was removed in the last hour of day 40.

State Sens. Renee Unterman (center) and Frank Ginn (right)

Homeowner Associations: HB 685 by Rep. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) was addressed in the committee process in February, but did not move forward. This outlined how condo/homeowner associations can reinstitute a board to maintain common areas, and was monitored to ensure that there were no attempts to force credit unions to be on the hook for back fees/fines. GCUA learned that homeowner association interests may bring forward a comprehensive bill next year to address multiple provisions of their act. It will be monitored closely to protect credit union lending operations.

Banking Improvement Zones: SB 398 by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) would create banking improvement zones to be designated by the Department of Community Affairs to encourage the opening of physical branches in areas where there are few or no options as to financial institutions. It would direct cities/counties to utilize public funds as a “carrot,” and did not have a hearing.

Prized Linked-Sweepstakes Savings Accounts: SB 403 also by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), would set up sweepstakes savings accounts (otherwise known as lottery-based savings), and would outline that they are permissible. GCUA sought out Sen. McKoon to discuss his intentions; he introduced the bill to get a dialogue started but not move forward in 2016, but with possible traction in 2017.

Employment Law: Multiple bills are introduced each year that seek to alter employment law; these bills are watched as every credit union has employees. Some from 2016 that did not pass include:

Retirement Savings Programs: SR 736 by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) would create a study committee to analyze the number of Georgia employers who offer retirement/savings programs for employees, and develop a public/private partnership to provide savings programs for those that do not.

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U.S. CapitolPushing Congress for Regulatory Relief (Issue 4 of 6)

On Tuesday, April 5th the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee conducted a hearing on “Assessing the Effects of Consumer Finance Regulations.” Committee members and witnesses alike had concerns over regulatory burden’s effect on the financial services marketplace for consumers. CUNA was on hand for the hearing, and had submitted a letter for the record in advance that highlighted results of its comprehensive regulatory burden study. That study found that in 2014 alone the cost of regulatory burden on credit unions was $7.2 billion.

During the hearing, both witnesses and legislators discussed how over-regulation has the opposite of its intended effect in some cases, making it harder for underbanked consumers to access services they need, and forcing them to turn to less regulated nonbank providers – and how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has done more harm than help. Regulatory burden has been a key talking point among Georgia credit union leaders at Hike the Hill and in-district meetings; this message will continue to help keep the issue at the forefront in Washington, D.C., to push for relief.

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ElectionWatch 2016Election Season Is Here: Use this Free Resource for Your Members (Issue 5 of 6)

Election season brings the opportunity for credit unions to get involved, whether that be through the simple act of encouraging members to vote, hosting legislators at a branch, volunteering with campaigns, or having the resources to learn where candidates stand on issues that matter to YOUR credit union's operations and long-range success. Take advantage of ElectionWatch, the get-out-the-vote website for your credit union. Ensure that it is on your credit union website today!


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NewsCredit Unions in the News (Issue 6 of 6)

Credit unions continue to earn media coverage statewide and beyond. Whether it’s in a local newspaper, niche magazine or radio show, the credit union message is shared through a multitude of outlets across Georgia. Click here to see recent coverage of Georgia’s credit unions "In the News."

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