By Daniel C. Radford
Idaho has a new political force on hand, Reclaim Idaho. And it looks like it’s making the elites upset. After we, the people, voted at over 60 percent for Medicaid Expansion, at a major blow to the costly and bureaucratic government-insured market exchanges, Idaho’s predatory banking industry is taking aims to undermine our access to political power. This threat to democracy comes from the payday loans industry, which fears that its exorbitant, exploitative interest rates will become the target of the next ballot initiative. In short, they are scared that democracy will challenge the stranglehold they have over so many Idahoans’ pocketbooks.
This is evidenced by Sen. Grow’s testimony on behalf of SB 1159 Wednesday, March 13, to the Senate State Affairs Committee. He began his remarks in favor of his anti-initiative bill (which was crafted with industry lobbyist John Sheldon) by stating that the word democracy does not appear in the U.S. and Idaho constitutions, nor the Declaration of Independence. It seems he seeks to imply that democracy should not appear in Idaho either. Predatory lenders’ fear of democracy should be taken as a compliment to the strength of everyday Idahoans political will.
Indeed, this industry has reason to be afraid. In the last few years consumers made clear their concerns and we have started to see action. In Caldwell, the city council reacted to the proliferation of payday lenders by voting to oversee and approve their establishment on a case by case basis. This came after the legislature voted in 2014 to add protections to Idaho’s Payday Loans Act. The legislature voted to limit the cash amount of loans, to restrict the use of loans to pay back loans, and to require lenders to offer different payment plans for borrowers who have difficulty repaying.
However, they did not cap the interest rates that could be charged for payday loans. It is important to note that Idaho’s payday loans average with an interest rate of over 650 percent, the third highest in the nation (after Texas and Utah). This causes borrowers (who are already in a precarious-enough economic position) to be caught in a destructive debt trap from which there is little hope of escape.
It is estimated that nearly $100 million a year is sucked out of the pockets of Idahoans, siphoned off from our economy in the forms of fees and fines, and added to the profits of payday lenders.
Democratic action in the form of a ballot initiative is already threatening the payday loans industry’s mega-profits in Colorado, in the form of Initiative 126 (which passed with 77 percent and capped interest rates to 36 percent last year). This is what has prompted Senator Grow’s anti-initiative bill to increase the number of signatures needed from 6 percent to 10 percent, to raise the number of districts needed to get an initiative on the ballot from 18 to 32 out of 35, and to decrease the time to do so from 18 to 6 months. No surprise he consulted heavily with Money Trees lobbyist John Sheldon.
And all this coming from Sheldon, the failure behind the Prop 1 initiative which would have allowed gambling on horse races that have already happened. After failing to get Prop 1 passed, Sheldon’s political interests have now shifted to undermining the initiative process, making propositions like the one he failed to get passed harder to get to voters.
Luckily, this bill remains held in committee, after the committee members voted unanimously to pigeonhole it following hearings last Friday, March 15. Only two of nearly 60 spoke in favor of the Grow’s anti-democracy bill. It is likely this bill will resurface before the end of the legislative session.
It is up to everyday Idahoans to keep it that way and let this anti-initiative bill die in committee. If you want to maintain sovereignty over our politics and keep the deep-pocketed, moneyed interests from eroding our democracy, please call or email Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, the head of the Senate State Affairs Committee who can bring the bill back at her discretion. Thank her and the rest of the committee for setting this bill aside at the moment. But, most importantly urge her to let it die in committee.
Patti Anne Lodge – Huston, District [email protected] (208) 332-1320
The other members of the committee are as follows:
Brent Hill – Rexburg, District 34
Mark Harris – Soda Springs,
Chuck Winder – Boise, District 20
Mary Souza – Coeur d’Alene, District
Kelly Anthon – Burley, District 827
It would be a good idea to call Sen. Grow and let him know what you think of his bill. And remind him that, contrary to the desires of his industry bosses, that he serves us, and we, the people, think democracy does have a place in Idaho.
Scott Grow – Eagle, District 14
And let’s not forget about what the payday loan industry is doing to Idahoans. Maybe it’s time for the next ballot initiative to challenge their mega profits and cap their exploitative interest rates. Not many people were thinking about it before Senator Grow’s bill, but the more I research the practices of payday lenders, the better an initiative like Colorado’s 126 starts to sound.
Daniel C. Radford is an aspiring journalist and sophomore in college who is from Sandpoint.
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