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PEWAUKEE, Wis. – For the third consecutive year, the Wisconsin Credit Union League tried to get state lawmakers to pass a financial modernization bill, and for the third time the League came up empty handed. Frustrated, but not daunted, no final decision has been made as yet for the League’s strategy when the state legislature convenes in 2003, but League officials are exploring different tacks on the bill, ones they hope will prove more successful for them when the state legislature convenes next year. The Wisconsin Credit Union League’s attempt to pass a financial modernization bill for the state’s more than 300 credit unions actually predates 2000. In September 1999, State Sen. John Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Rep. Frank Lasee (R-Ledgeview) introduced identical bills – S.B. 274 and A.B. 563 – in the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Privacy, Electronic Commerce and Financial Institutions, and the Assembly Committee on Insurance, respectively. The bills would have increased consumer access to credit unions by allowing CUs to open branches farther than 25 miles across state lines and permitting them to serve multi-county regions. In addition, the Credit Union Consumer Choice Bill offered CUs new ways to improve member service by adding new technologies and products through CUSOs. Both Erpenbach and Lasee at the time were chairman of their respective committees. While the Wisconsin League anticipated bankers would attempt to defeat the bills, it hoped the threat would be deflected by the bankers’ Universal Banking Bill that was due to be introduced. In fact, the credit union bill was passed by the state Senate and the bank bill was passed by the Assembly, and both bills died there. In March 2001, the Wisconsin League and the WBA reached a historic financial agreement to combine the credit union and bank bills into an “omnibus” financial reform package (CU Times, April 12, 2000). The legislation passed the state Assembly, but failed to be brought for a vote in front of the entire Senate before the legislative session ended. The Senate instead passed a bill to help fund the renovation of Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. In April 2001, the Wisconsin League together with the WBA tried again to get Assembly Bill 299, dubbed “Financial Modernization 2001″ passed. The bill received bipartisan support with a total of 114 co-sponsors who signed on to the measure, including 86 out of 99 Representatives and 28 out of 33 Senators. In May 2001, the Wisconsin state Assembly passed Assembly Bill 299, but again the bill was the victim of political wrangling between the Assembly and Senate over a priority wage lien issue – the Assembly felt the issue was separate from the financial modernization bill, but the Senate postured that it should be joined with the measure. In addition, the Wisconsin League was looking at the state’s 2002 budget adjustment bill addressing the state’s $1.2 billion budget deficit. As one of the last six remaining items that had to be resolved of the more than 360 items the Conference Committee of the Wisconsin Legislature considered, the credit union language was not included in the committee’s finalized package that was sent to Gov. Scott McCallum in early July. Wisconsin Credit Union League Director of Government Affairs Georgia Maxwell said the league was “disappointed” the bill again didn’t pass. She said the league was still considering its options on how best to address the situation when the state legislature convenes in January 2003. “It’s really too bad the financial modernization bill didn’t pass this year because credit unions worked very hard on it,” said Maxwell. As for the league’s legislative agenda next year, Maxwell said “we are keeping our choices open. “Credit unions have made many friends in the state legislature and gained the respect of legislators. We’re confident we have enough friends among the lawmakers to help us overcome any obstacles we’ll face when we introduce legislation again next year.” -

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