COLUMBUS — An effort to take payday lending reforms directly to voters was dealt at least a temporary blow Friday as the attorney general rejected language that would have been shown to would-be petition signers.
That means that backers of the proposed Short-Term Loan Consumer Protection Amendment will have to rework the petition language, gather another 1,000 or more signatures, and resubmit their petition to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s desk.
A proposed constitutional amendment would cap the annual interest rates of short-term payday loans in Ohio.
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The rejection at first pass largely represents a loss of several weeks of critical time to gather the nearly 306,000 valid signatures of registered voters needed to put the question on the ballot. The deadline for submitting petitions for the November general election is July 4.
“I would say we are still hopeful that we will obtain adequate support to meet the deadline for November, but our ultimate concern is getting this done,” said Carl Ruby, pastor of Central Christian Church in Springfield and leader of an ad hoc group of faith leaders seeking reform.
“If it stretches into 2019, we’re fine with that,” he said.
The proposed constitutional amendment is designed to cap the annual interest rates of short-term payday loans at 28 percent and provide for the charging of a $5 fee for each $100 borrowed, capped at $20.
The Pew Charitable Trusts has estimated that Ohio has the highest payday lending rate in the nation, 591 percent if extrapolated over time because the loan has been repeatedly rolled over rather than paid off.
The coalition announced that it would turn directly to voters out of frustration over the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s inaction to date on House Bill 123, sponsored by Reps. Michael Ashford (D., Toledo) and Kyle Koehler (R., Springfield).
Mr. DeWine, a Republican candidate for governor, stressed that his rejection was not a judgment on the merits of the question but rather whether the summary language accurately reflects what the amendment would do.
He pointed to apparent conflicts within the summary language itself as well as items within the amendment that he said also should be reflected in the summary language.
“I am unable to certify the summary as a fair and truthful statement of the proposed amendment,” Mr. DeWine wrote. “However, I must caution that this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all defects in the submitted summary.”
Ohio passed legislation to crack down on “predatory lending” in 2008, and an attempt by the industry to convince voters to repeal the law failed. But the industry exploited loopholes to get around the new restrictions
“We are committed to this issue, and we aren’t going to go away,” Mr. Ruby said. “Our preference is that the House and Senate pass the bill that addresses all our concerns so that the ballot initiative wouldn’t be necessary.
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