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Bill Watch: Ways to help Oklahoma families build wealth this legislative session

This post is the first in a series highlighting key bills in several issues areas that we’re following. 

Last session, working families saw little in the way of help from the Legislature.  As the budget crisis continued, core services suffered further cuts and teachers and state employees did not see the raises that many legislators promised would be a priority. Too many Oklahomans are still struggling with financial instability, but there are opportunities for the legislature to make some strides this session.

We identified several goals related to economic opportunity and security in OK Policy’s 2018 legislative policy priorities. Here are some key bills related to those goals:

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Oklahoma slips in new economic rankings

Recent good news about gains the national economy – lower unemployment, small declines in the poverty rate, and a booming stock market – is not reflected here in Oklahoma. The 2018 Prosperity Now Scorecard paints a picture of many Oklahoma families struggling to make ends meets and build a better future for themselves. Oklahoma’s 40th place ranking is a decline from our 37th place score last year – which itself was a decline from 34th the year before.

The Prosperity Now Scorecard uses the most recent data available from several sources to offer the most comprehensive look available at Americans’ ability to save and build wealth, move out of –and stay out of – poverty, and create a more prosperous future. It also evaluates 53 different policy measures to determine how well states are addressing the challenges facing their residents.

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New protections for payday loan borrowers are under attack

Last fall, we told you about new rules issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that would protect payday loan customers from some of the most abusive practices in that industry. These new rules, scheduled to be enforced in mid-2019, offer basic and common sense protections for consumers, like requiring that lenders verify customers can afford to repay the loans before making them and that they gain authorization before drawing payment from a borrower’s bank account after two unsuccessful attempts. The rules were a promising and important first step in preventing consumers from being lured into debt traps of frequent, high-interest loans.

These protections were especially welcome news for Oklahomans since our state has the highest rate of payday loan usage in the country. Even worse, the majority of payday loans in Oklahoma are going to frequent borrowers who take out seven or more of these loans in a year. But now these protections have come under attack from two sources: Congress and the new leaders of the CFPB.

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Roadside cameras won’t solve Oklahoma’s uninsured driver problem

In 2016 Oklahoma enacted SB 359 creating the Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Program. The new law allows district attorneys to contract with private companies for automated license plate readers to catch and send tickets to uninsured drivers. The company that won the contract, Gatso USA, will provide the equipment and in return will get a portion of the fine (initially about 43 percent).  District attorneys will also get a cut of any fines collected – 20 percent.

Supporters of this program argue that it will reduce the number of uninsured drivers in Oklahoma.  That number does need to be reduced – we lead the nation in the percentage of drivers that are uninsured at 26 percent. But using cameras to catch uninsured cars and automatically send tickets isn’t likely to actually solve the problem.  That’s because most uninsured drivers are not opting out because they just don’t want insurance – they don’t have insurance because they can’t afford it. And that’s not because they’re bad drivers and are being charged more because they pose a bigger risk.  It’s because your car insurance rate depends on some things that have nothing to do with your driving history… like your credit score.

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The cost of denying paid sick leave

Am I too sick to work? Can I take the day off? For many Oklahomans, the answer to these questions is usually “no.” Private employers are not required to offer paid sick leave to their employees in Oklahoma. In the last legislative session two bills that would have required paid sick leave in the state were introduced — HB 1310 by Rep. Walke (D-Oklahoma City) and HB 1536 by Rep. Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City). Neither bill was even allowed a vote in their House committees, and that’s unfortunate. Sick leave will be needed by almost all workers at some time – to recover from an illness or to care for a sick child or family member. Denying workers the right to paid sick leave creates big costs for all of us.

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New protections for payday loan borrowers are coming (if Congress will stay out of the way)

After years of research and public consultation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this month issued a final rule to create new protections for payday loan borrowers. These new protections are a necessary and positive first step in eliminating the debt trap that so often results from high-interest, predatory loans — and nowhere more than Oklahoma, where we have the highest payday loan usage rate in the nation.

The new protections won’t close off all access to expensive loans, but they will curb the practices most likely to catch borrowers in debt traps, with mounting fees and interest charges on loans they simply cannot afford to pay back.

But we’re not out of the woods quite yet.  This new rule could face strong opposition from the predatory loan industry and from Congress, and we must continue speaking out to ensure that these protections go into effect.

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Highs and lows of Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session (Part 2)

Yesterday we shared a recap of what happened this legislative session with the state budget, taxes, and education policies. Today in part two, we’ll look at outcomes related to health care, criminal justice, and economic opportunity.

We began the session with a set of top priorities in all of these policy areas. We made progress on some of our issues and were disappointed by others, but we were also heartened by the large number of Oklahomans who got involved this year, many for the first time, to advocate for a better future. That advocacy was key to stopping some big threats to health care and the safety net this year, though several positive reforms fell short as well.

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Bill to expand eligibility for Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships would be a win for all Oklahomans

The Oklahoma Legislature is close to passing a bill (SB 529) to make Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships available to more students. Available since 1996, these scholarships cover the cost of tuition for in-state students at an Oklahoma public college or university if students complete a series of college-readiness requirements before high school graduation and maintain a passing GPA once in college.

Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships have become a critical part of college planning for low and moderate income Oklahoma families as they are guaranteed to students who meet the income guidelines and complete the requirements.  Expanding access to the program is necessary if Oklahoma wants to compete in the new economy where most high-paying jobs require advanced education.

Currently, students are eligible for the scholarship if their family’s income is below $50,000 at the time they apply.  SB 529 would raise the income limit to $55,000 in 2017-2018 and then to $60,000 in 2021-2022.  SB 529 has passed both the House and Senate, but the Senate still needs to approve House amendments or work out the language in conference committee. The bill is close to the finish line, which is good news for college-bound students and for the whole state.

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Statement: We thank Gov. Fallin for vetoing expansion of predatory lending

by | May 5th, 2017 | Posted in Financial Security | Comments (6)

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement in response to Governor Mary Fallin’s veto of HB 1913, a bill that would have allowed a new form of very high-cost lending:

By vetoing HB 1913, Governor Fallin has prevented the expansion of predatory lending practices that would trap more Oklahomans in costly debt. We thank Governor Fallin for listening to the seniors, religious leaders, consumer watchdogs, and numerous other Oklahomans who spoke out against this bill. Despite an aggressive lobbying push by the high-cost lending industry, regular Oklahomans won out.

In the debate over HB 1913, many lawmakers recognized that we need to better regulate payday lending practices to stop the abuse of financially struggling Oklahomans. Next year, lawmakers should prioritize limiting excessive interest rates and providing greater consumer protections for these loans.

Statement: HB 1913 creates unnecessary, abusive loans; Gov. Fallin should veto

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement in response to the Legislature’s passage of HB 1913:

It is very disappointing that the Legislature has approved HB 1913. This bill was ​drafted ​and lobbied aggressively by the payday loan industry​. By creating another predatory, high-cost loan product, this bill ​will ​put more ​Oklahomans​ in deep​ financial distress.

Oklahomans already have plenty of options for short-term credit and do not need the harmful loan products allowed by HB 1913. The loans authorized by HB 1913 with annual interest rates of over 200 percent would be more than twice as expensive as the signature loans that are already widely available. HB 1913 would also allow abusive practices like taking automatic withdrawals from a borrower’s bank account, forcing employers to send portions of wages to a lender, and putting liens on a borrower’s car for loans as small as $100.

Governor Fallin previously showed her concern about legislation that takes advantage of financially vulnerable Oklahomans when she vetoed a 2013 bill that would have raised fees on small loans. We hope that the Governor will again stand up for Oklahomans by vetoing HB 1913.

Please contact Governor Mary Fallin to express your opposition to HB 1913 and ask her to veto the bill. You can call her office at (405) 521-2342. You can also contact her via twitter @GovMaryFallin.

Click here to learn more about this bill and find out how your legislators voted.

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