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SALEM, Ore. – Oregon credit unions flexed their political muscle by turning out en masse on the state capitol to lobby legislators and to push for passage of a bill that would allow public agencies to deposit funds in credit unions. More than 200 credit union officials and supporters turned out Feb. 10 for “Credit Union Day at the Capitol” organized by the Credit Union Association of Oregon (CUAO). The day’s theme was “Credit Unions: Strengthening Oregon Communities Together.” The turnout for the credit unions was the largest ever and was the biggest lobbying effort of any group at the capitol so far this session, according to Pam Leavitt, senior vice president of governmental affairs and public relations for CUAO. “It was extremely successful,” Leavitt reported. “We got off to a really good start. Those legislators who had questions were able to meet with a local person and talk more about credit unions, the Public Funds bill, taxation and what we’re doing in local communities.” The Public Funds bill – Senate Bill 331 – would allow Oregon credit unions for the first time to accept deposits of government funds. More than 18 other states already allow that practice, Leavitt noted. The bill is opposed by the banking lobby, which argues that credit unions enjoy an unfair advantage because they are not taxed and are exempt from the Community Reinvestment Act. In a preliminary victory for credit unions even before lobbying day began, the bill was sent to the Senate Revenue Committee rather than the Senate Business Committee, where it would have faced a more uncertain future. “Public entities have made several requests to our credit unions for the ability to make deposits,” Leavitt said. “We want to be able to provide this service. Senate Bill 331 makes sense and we hope for quick passage through the House and Senate; the passing of this bill will enhance the credit union philosophy of `People Helping People.’” Among those who would like to see credit unions accept deposits of public funds is Greg Booth, general manager of the Clatskanie Public Utility District. “We would like to have as wide as business alternatives as possible,” he said. Leavitt said the lobbying day effort was a chance for credit union officials to meet with their elected representatives and the House and Senate leadership. So many credit union people showed up that training sessions had to be conducted in two different rooms and a talk by party leaders had to be moved to the steps of the capitol in order for everybody to hear. Leavitt said the Public Funds bill wasn’t the only reason why credit unions came to lobby. “I think what we’ve done in the area of political affairs in Oregon is we have made this a priority for all of our credit unions,” she said. “They have all bought into the fact that they have to participate. We run a very strong grass roots program and they are all responsible for knowing their legislators. They know that when we need them, they’re going to be here. I think we’re just going to continue to grow.” Among the other issues the legislature is facing – in addition to budget shortfalls like many other states – is identity theft and predatory lending. Leavitt said she didn’t anticipate the banking industry would attempt to introduce any taxation measures but said she expected bankers to use that issue as a bargaining chip. “The banking lobby is extremely strong here and most legislators love both of us,” she said. “They don’t want to have to make a decision between us. “That’s really the biggest challenge we have,” she added. “I think it’s just that members (legislators) don’t want to have to make a choice, make a decision. We’re trying to make the argument that by choosing not to make a decision, you’re voting against the credit union by not allowing the legislation that benefits the credit union to move forward. “We’re making the argument that anytime we want to strengthen the Oregon credit union act, the bankers are going to oppose it,” she said. “We also make the argument that we never oppose any bank legislation. We do not oppose it anytime they want to change their act to make it stronger for banks. We never oppose that. They need to stop opposing it when we want to improve our act.” [email protected]

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