As of press time on February 23rd the state Legislature is meeting for the 26th day of the 40-day schedule, and it’s been an intense week of hearings, new bills and existing issues changing rapidly. And the reason for the frantic pace is that next week is crossover day, which is the day by which any bill must pass its originating chamber (House for HBs, Senate for SBs) to be eligible to continue in the legislative process leading up to becoming law. Watch for next week to be full of issues and long hours; some of the issues from this week, however, included:
Alarm Companies: H.B. 826 by Rep. Geoff Cauble (R-Locust Grove) was a bill on alarm companies, but changed in the process to streamline the laws pertaining to how law enforcement responds to alarm notifications, and was amended in committee to allow alarm notices from gun retailers, drugstores and banking institutions to have a “direct response” from law enforcement if the contracts with the alarm company denote such. The bill passed the full House on February 22nd, and now travels to the Senate.
Appraisal Management Companies: H.B. 775 by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) seeks to bring Georgia law on regulating appraisal management companies into compliance with federal statute. And while it’s couched as a nationwide effort to bring state laws on par with federal regulations, buried in the bill is a small section that defines federally regulated appraisal management companies in a manner that would not include credit unions with other financial institution-owned appraisal management companies. GCUA worked with Rep. Powell and the committee chairman to amend the bill prior the February 20th hearing in House Regulated Industries, and testified in committee to ensure that credit unions would be included. This bill moves forward with the credit union amendment.
Credit Freeze Changes: To date there are three separate bills that seek to remove the fee credit reporting agencies are permitted to charge consumers who request a freeze, two of which were debated in committees this week: House Banking held another hearing on February 21st on H.B. 866 by Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs), and Senate Banking held a hearing on February 20th on S.B. 376 by Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth). Both of these bills seek to do the same thing – remove the fee for a credit freeze – and both passed their committees and move forward. Bills surrounding credit reporting (or data collection) will continue to be monitored closely through the process for any changes that could impact lending operations.
Credit Insurance: On February 21st H.B. 938 by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) was debated in an Insurance subcommittee hearing; this bill seeks to provide an option to credit unions (and others) a form of regulatory relief with the option to obtain one license for credit insurance sales as opposed to licensing each individual. The bill would require regular education of those individuals tasked with selling the insurance in their roles (five hours initially, and then two hours annually) to ensure that consumer protections are upheld in the event an institution opts to have one overreaching license. GCUA has engaged CUNA Mutual on the bill, and it is intended to make the registration/licensing process less cumbersome on the institution, while ensuring that the individuals receive training.
Data Breach: On February 20th a House Judiciary subcommittee debated a bill from last year: H.B. 499 by Rep. Sherri Gilligan (R-Cumming), which seeks to expand the consumer notice provisions in law where there is a data breach. GCUA has been in dialogue with Rep. Gilligan to ensure that a provision in the bill remains that deems federally or state regulated entities in compliance, but more work continues as the bill is expected to go through several changes before being brought back to the committee for a potential vote.
Deficiency Judgments: Another bill from last year, S.B. 86 by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), was debated in a Senate Judiciary hearing on February 21st. This legislation seeks to regulate deficiency judgments and levies on real property, specifically requiring the confirmation of the sale before a deficiency can be pursued. GCUA continues to watch it closely to ensure that credit unions are not negatively impacted.
Elimination of Certain Tax Credit Programs: On February 21st a bill that seeks to remove 70 tax exemptions was passed in the Senate Finance committee. S.B. 432 by Sen. John Albers (R-Alpharetta) would make sweeping changes by eliminating the tax exemptions for various income tax as well as sales and use tax, and touches groups such as the National Guard, churches, food banks, 4-H, disaster recovery and aquariums. None of the 70 tax credits being removed impacts credit unions; however, the bill will be monitored closely. Of note: All these exemptions were on the proposed lists of the summer/fall study committee meetings GCUA engaged in around the state last year, and 60 of these were not studied whatsoever, so more work is expected (continued study committee work to review tax credit/exemption programs to weigh a return on investment, whether the programs are working, and whether they should be continued).
Executory Contracts: H.B. 456 by Rep. Debra Bazemore (D-Riverdale) is a bill from last year that seeks to tighten the laws surrounding executory contracts for a home (and not the mortgages or loans offered at credit unions or other financial institutions). While this bill pertains solely to the instances where an owner of property contracts with a buyer through an installment contract format, it is being monitored closely to ensure it does not impact lending procedures at credit unions. Another version of this bill is expected soon, and will be watched through the process.
Foreclosure Protections for Active Military: On February 21st the House Banking Committee debated H.B. 676 by Rep. Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs), which has been amended with the changes sought to protect credit unions from falling under different requirements and protections surrounding lending to military. This bill seeks to provide foreclosure protections to active military and is couched as an aid to the state in base realignment closures, and legislators are very keen to keep military bases in the state (for good reason). The measure would delay any foreclosure action during a service member’s active duty and for a protected period afterwards, and GCUA has worked, testified and lobbied to amend the bill so that it tracks federal military law (Servicemembers Civil Relief Act) foreclosure protections so as to prevent regulatory burdens and confusion, as well as the negative provisions that were in the bill originally that opened the door to judicial foreclosure and expanded the protections beyond mortgage lending. The bill passed the committee on February 22nd, but with the amendments sought to ensure that the bill mirrors federal law.
Funeral Expense Payments: Over the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend GCUA continued to engage Rep. Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville) on his bill, H.B. 689, which seeks to expedite the payment of funeral expenses when an individual dies without a will, and without a joint member on his or her account. Presently there is a 90-day waiting period in which the funds must be held before payment. This bill sought to abolish the waiting period, and, of note, to instruct the financial institutions that they must pay funeral home expenses first before any family member. However, after much discussion, Rep. Williams agreed to amend his bill in a hearing on February 20th to revert to previous law (and not give funeral homes priority), and just reduce the waiting period to 45 days before they can be paid by the financial institution. The bill passed the full Insurance Committee on February 21st with the changes, and will continue to be monitored.
GILA: On February 22nd the House Banking Committee debated a bill to take those loan companies that fall under the Georgia Industrial Loan Act that are presently regulated by the Insurance Commissioner, and have them instead be regulated by the Department of Banking and Finance (which regulates state-chartered credit unions). This bill, H.B. 902 by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), has been reviewed closely to ensure that none of the provisions of the new regulations would be applicable to credit unions, and the bill will continue to be monitored closely.
HOA Issues: On February 20th a bill seeking to overhaul the condo/homeowner association law (H.B. 748 by Rep. William Bodie, D-East Point) was debated in a House Regulated Industries hearing. While this bill on paper does not impact credit unions, all HOA bills are monitored closely as they create an avenue for HOA interests to attach language they have been pursuing to supersede the priority lien status of financial institutions. Another hearing is anticipated.
Improvement Zones: On February 20th S.B. 358 by Sen. Michael Rhett (D-Marietta) passed the Senate Banking committee. This bill seeks to create banking improvement zones, with the intent to encourage branches in areas where there are few options for financial institutions. The bill encourages cities and counties to utilize public funds as a quasi-incentive for banks, but is problematic in its application and the expectations it sets and would need to overcome multiple hurdles in the legislative process.
Occupational Taxes: A bill regarding the payment of occupational taxes (HB 858 by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire)) was heard in a Ways and Means Committee hearing, and has been researched to ensure that it doesn’t inadvertently wrap in credit unions in paying this tax on the local level. Rep. Blackmon is aware of the potential concerns and this issue will continue to be monitored closely to protect credit unions.
Payments Between Insurers and Health Providers: H.B. 818 by Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) passed the House Insurance Committee. The bill is directed solely at the fees charged between insurance providers and doctors’ offices (and not on consumer transactions). This bill has been modified in the process (to the positive) to make it explicitly clear that it is applied to those insurance payments to the provider, and to prevent insurance companies from requiring providers to accept only payment via virtual credit card.
TAVT: H.B. 327 by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) is the bill from last year that sought to make several changes to the TAVT process for autos, including addressing the “welcome to Georgia” tax people see when they move to the state upon transferring vehicles, among other changes. Of note is that it would place used cars at the same tax calculation as new cars (the higher of book or retail price) if sold by a dealer, making those purchases (and calculations) consistent. For casual sales between individuals (and not a new or used car dealer), the fair market value would be the same as it is today. This bill is being watched closely to protect credit union auto lending operations, as more changes throughout the legislative process are anticipated. The bill passed the House on February 21st, and now travels to the Senate for consideration.
Tenant Laws: Tenant laws have been as frequent as credit reporting fee bills this year, with multiple ones at different stages of the legislative process. All of these are monitored to ensure that credit unions are not saddled with regulatory burden or have their lending operations impacted. Some of the new activity of this week on this topic included: H.B. 954, introduced by Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners), which would overhaul tenant law; H.B. 834 by Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), which seeks to provide protections for victims of abuse and was debated in the House Judiciary subcommittee on February 21st, and S.B. 443 by Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro), which seeks to change tenant laws as they apply to damage and security deposits, and passed the Senate Judiciary committee on February 21st.
Towed Vehicles: Both H.B. 773 by Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) and S.B. 446 by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) seek to rewrite the towed-vehicle law so as to allow a streamlined process for abandoned vehicles to be disposed of. GCUA worked with the interested parties last year on a similar bill to ensure that the lienholder notification remains intact, and these new versions retain the notice. The House Motor Vehicles chose not to pass H.B. 773; however, the Senate Public Safety committee passed S.B. 446 on February 21st and the bill will continue to be monitored.
Wire Transfer Fees: Rep. Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick) has not received a hearing yet on his legislative effort to place a fee on wire transfers (H.B. 66); however, it is expected. This was the issue where credit unions and others would be required to collect and remit the fees. Rep. Jones shared an advance copy of what he is pursuing, and GCUA has expressed concerns with the language, as it does not exempt the industry from the provisions. Much work is under way to address this issue with both Rep. Jones as well as the members of the House Ways and Means Committee, where it is anticipated soon. GCUA will continue to lobby legislators in an effort to prevent any undue compliance burdens on credit unions.