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<p>DES MOINES, Iowa – Predatory lending and impending changes in electronic funds transfers lead a short list of issues before Iowa credit unions in the year ahead. The seemingly never-ending battle with banks over the non-profit status of credit unions was close to the top of many minds, but that issue was not a hot-button issue as Iowa credit union executives met Feb. 5-7 for the Iowa Credit Union League’s 2002 Legislative & Critical Issues Conference. “We never give up on the bankers believing we should pay more taxes,” said attendee John Bentler, CEO of River Bend Credit Union of Burlington, Iowa. “One of the great fears is that we become too complacent.” Bentler was upbeat after the conference, saying he was pleased that Gov. Tom Vilsack addressed the conference’s opening session. He was even more satisfied that the governor did not include rejoining the state’s credit union division with the banking division as part of a planned reorganization of state agencies. The governor made it clear, Bentler said, “that was not on his agenda; that’s a battle we fought some years back.” If Vilsack’s comments, and the conference in general, had a sour note, it concerned the issue of ATM surcharging. According to the Iowa Credit Union League, Iowa is the last state that still prohibits applying a point-of-use surcharge to users who don’t have an account at the ATM owner’s financial institution. Julie Starnes, ICUL vice president of government affairs, said federally regulated banks are currently arguing in court in the state that that regulation should not be applied to them. “We oppose ATM surcharges,” she said. Should the banks prevail, credit unions would be put at a disadvantage. The ICUL estimates that Iowa’s 193 credit unions operate only 150 of the state’s 5,000 ATMs. Vilsack told the nearly 100 conferees that he supports credit unions – and the attorney general and banking superintendent – in opposing the bankers’ lawsuit. A decision is expected soon, and several credit union execs are assuming the worst. “It’s highly likely that Iowa will allow surcharging,” said Janet Hinrichs, CEO of Des Moines Metro Credit Union flatly. “I think the national bankers will prevail,” agreed Bentler, who does not see a legislative remedy at hand. He noted that in Burlington, none of the five credit unions in the area operate their own ATMs. “We don’t control our own destiny.” Credit unions do expect to do battle on legislation involving plastic, though. They are fighting an effort to allow betting enterprises – Iowa has both riverboat and permanent casinos – to allow gamblers to get credit-card cash advances in the casinos. “Debit access is OK,” said Hinrichs, “but they shouldn’t be able to have access to credit.” In his speech, Vilsack applauded the credit-union movement’s efforts to fight predatory and payday lending and noted that credit unions were doing a better job than other financial institutions in making mortgage money available to minorities and low-income people. “Thank you for giving so much of your credit union’s money back to your local community,” Vilsack said. “Your work on predatory lending and other consumer issues is to be commended.” Starnes said legislation would soon be introduced to apply more stringent restrictions on first-mortgage loans to rein in the high-cost lenders. She said the legislation is modeled on a similar law now in effect in North Carolina. As elsewhere, credit unions in Iowa are trying to find a strategy to combat these marginal lenders, but, as Bentler noted, “We haven’t seen legislation at this point.” But Bentler is eager to see some legislative effort succeed. Hinrichs agreed. “We definitely support efforts to get payday lenders to disclose properly,” she said. Conference participants spent part of the midweek conference meeting with hometown legislators to drive these and other issues home. They also heard from speakers who discussed several administrative issues and offered insight on the Iowa economy, state politics, the status of bankruptcy in the state. CUNA Vice President Pete Crear reviewed the work of the Renaissance Commission and discussed recent legislative and legal actions. Another session sought to explain to conferees the basics of the Islamic faith. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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