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On Wrong Side of Payday Lending Issue, Tilley Resorts to Personal Attacks

Speaker Steve Tilley knows that he and his GOP colleagues are on the wrong side of the payday lending issue, so he's turned to personal attacks on Rep. Mary Still, the driving force for reform in the Missouri House:

Still complained today that she was not asked to be a member and was not allowed to speak when she attended meetings of the group.

Tilley said the panel was not a formal committee and was not required to hear from everyone with an opinion on the loan companies.

“Over the past few years, for both sides, Republicans and Democrats, she [Still] has been a kind of polarizing person on this issue, and she hasn’t been very successful,” Tilley said. “Hopefully we can come up with a solution that can actually work. Filing a bill and throwing bombs and never getting anything accomplished doesn’t help very much.”

Tilley's assertion that Still is somehow responsible for a lack of movement on payday lending reform legislation is absurd and pathetic.  By all accounts, the Republican leadership -- including Tilley, then-Speaker Ron Richard and payday loan shop owner Don Wells (R-Kwik Kash)-- who went out of their way to block a vote on Still's legislation.  Indeed, House Dems moved last April to pull Still's bill from the sham committee run by Wells and Rep. Mike Cunningham (R-Rogersville) after Wells presided over an outrageous one-sided "hearing" for predatory lenders to praise themselves.  This is what the Tribune's Hank Waters wrote about House Republicans' "low-jinks" last year:

Conflict of interest, in spades

When first I read about the low-jinks of Rep. Don Wells, it was hard to believe. This week the Cabool Republican staged the most self-serving House committee hearing possible to imagine.

Acting in behalf of the ailing chairman of the House Financial Institutions committee, Wells held what he called a “lending presentation,” in which payday loan promoters were invited to explain the values of their industry but the other side was excluded.

To compound the outrage, Wells himself is owner of a payday loan business.

In a rare move, House Democrats are petitioning to take the subject bill away from the offending committee, saying it has forfeited its credibility on the issue. That might be the understatement of the year. The bill will be placed on the House calendar, but it will be up to Majority Leader Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, to allow debate on the floor.

Committee chairman Michael Cunningham, R-Rogersville, said the Democrats’ move would do no good. He said news coverage has been “National Enquirer type crap” and told our reporter, “I just have no use for you.”

Wells said his one-sided presentation was proper because Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, had been staging mock hearings around the state without giving payday leaders adequate time to explain their side. Rep. Still, the primary sponsor of a bill imposing tighter regulations, complained Republican House leaders had refused to hold timely hearings, effectively killing her legislation. So she staged “hearings” of her own with local representatives in several locations away from Jefferson City where she says opponents were allowed to speak.

“They had 30 minutes in St. Louis,” Still said. “I would love to have 30 minutes of uninterrupted time before that committee.”

Payday loan regulations in Missouri are the loosest in the nation, with the natural result our state is host to the largest number of payday loan companies. Still’s bill would impose limits on charges and interest rates similar to those in other states. In Missouri, effective loan rates for these short-time notes sometimes exceed 400 percent a year.

Still deserves credit for standing up to the offending establishment. This is the sort of moxie I expected from her.

As Tilley and everyone around the Capitol knows, payday loan reforms will move if and when Tilley, Wells and their compadres decide they will.  But the money trail indicates that we won't be seeing substantive changes in state law soon.

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