You're not a loan, sharks II 

Florida consumers ripped off by predatory car title lenders are about to be ripped off again -- by their own legislature.;;On April 15, at a meeting of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, Sen. Charles Williams (D-Live Oak) offered a bill that would have brought some sanity to the usurious car title loan industry, which was legalized in 1995 and allowed to charge 22 percent interest per month -- 264 percent a year. Williams' bill would have capped the first month's interest rate at 15 percent and scaled it back to no more than 31 percent a year. It was not a great bill; others would have banned the practice of lending money on car titles entirely. But it was a good start.;;No one voted for it.;;In fact, so deftly had the title loan industry's lobbyists worked the committee that two members who had indicated they would support Williams' reform left the meeting before the vote. They were Don Sullivan (R-Seminole) and Betty Holzendorf (D-Jacksonville), whose district, with a 21 percent poverty rate, is a prime picking ground for predatory lenders.;;The committee did pass another bill, sponsored by Sen. W. D. Childers (R-Pensacola) but written by industry lobbyist Don Tucker. If enacted, Childers' "reform" measure will cost state taxpayers $700,000 in regulatory costs. Williams' bill would have cost almost nothing.;;"This makes things worse," says Ben Ochshorn of Florida Legal Services, which often represents victims of the title loan industry. "Under current law you have 90 days to pay if you miss a payment, before they go to reposession. Under Childers' bill it's 10 days -- and you automatically lose the title to your car.";;Ochshorn estimates there are 100 cases pending in legal services in which people have complained of being ripped off by title loan companies to a degree beyond that sanctioned by law. ;;Rhett O'Doski, a legislative aid for Williams, says the senator "was really upset" by the vote. "This is probably the top consumer issue in the legislature this year," O'Doski says. "And nobody cares."

More by Ericson, Edward Jr.


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