Milan Simonich and others missed the mark in several articles about the predatory lending bill. When I ran for the Legislature, one of my campaign issues was to lower the interest rate from 175 percent. I introduced legislation in 2019 and had a small team of advocates in support: the Center on Law and Poverty, AARP and the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry.
I served on the board of New Mexico Voices for Children and support organizations working to promote better government. Nevertheless, as a legislator, I am amazed at the arrogance of some advocates in dealing with legislators. Organizations draft legislation without the input of legislators and expect them to sponsor as if the organization owns the bill.
So you can imagine my surprise on learning that advocates, including the Center on Law and Poverty, Think New Mexico and New Mexico Voices for Children, drafted Senate Bill 66, a 38-page bill — with no input from the House. I didn’t think it would pass the House and introduced House Bill 149, the same bill I carried in 2019 and one that caps the short-term lending interest rate at 36 percent. I stated that if SB 66 made it through the Senate, I would carry it.
SB 66 did pass the Senate, and advocates gleefully carried it to the House, as if they had everything under control. They faced crippling amendments in House Commerce and House Judiciary, and the bill was dead. The advocates hadn’t done their homework and took the House votes for granted. The Center on Law and Poverty called at 6 a.m. the morning after the House Judiciary Committee defeat and asked if I would carry amendments on the floor to save the legislation, proposing a 99 percent cap on interest for loans under $1,000 and a 36 percent cap on loans over $1,000. In the legislative process, this compromise meant living to fight another day, so I agreed.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and I knew it couldn’t be done alone. The House was operating under COVID-19 restrictions, making it hard to round up votes. Some legislators wouldn’t vote for a 99 percent cap because it was too high, and others believed people in poverty depended on installment-loan companies as their last resort. It was also nearing the end of the session and time was short. I devoted that day to calling 40 legislators. Speaker Brian Egolf and his staff actively worked toward saving this legislation.
The next morning, I heard from the speaker’s office that Rep. Patty Lundstrom was interested in helping with the compromise. We put a small meeting together with Reps. Doreen Gallegos, Micaela Lara Cadena and Dayan Hochman-Vigil and the speaker’s staff. The House would be adjourning within 48 hours.
Within 30 minutes, we were working out what points we could live with and what roles we would play, and we had about four hours before the bill was on the floor. I learned some Republicans would vote yes if we changed the amendment from $1,000 at 99 percent to $1,100 at 99 percent; loans above $1,100 would be capped at 36 percent.
The amended bill passed the House in a bipartisan vote of 52-16. I’m grateful for the Democratic and Republican members of the House who supported this effort.
What killed this bill was what I thought was a minor amendment in House Commerce that delayed the start date of the legislation to July 2022. The Senate looked at the compromise and decided nothing was going to happen for a year, so they would try for new legislation in 2022 with a 36 percent cap. The Senate never asked for a conference. So one could say the House didn’t back a 36 percent bill or, alternatively, that the Senate refused to go to a conference committee to try and work things out.
There’s been a lot of finger-pointing. Lobbyists say the House didn’t do its part; Simonich criticizes the speaker’s role. Individual members are singled out. My vote goes with those who stand in the arena and fight, and the House fought hard for this legislation. Bottom line: Advocates didn’t do their homework and took the House for granted. And the speaker was actively involved in this legislation from the beginning.
What’s next: I am working on legislation to lower the small-loan interest rate to 36 percent. I’m meeting with House members and the advocates now.