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It is rare for national credit union trade groups to go to Congress to propose separate credit union legislation. And for good reason. Tacking on a couple of credit union friendly proposals to even remotely related bills wending their way through the law-making process is much easier and a whole lot safer in the long run. But sometimes there is little choice but to stick the collective credit union neck out with a separate credit union bill. Such was the case a few years ago with H.R. 1151. It started out as a single page proposal to get credit unions back in the ball game after the five to four U.S. Supreme Court vote came crashing down on the way credit unions had been doing business. As everyone knows, H.R. 1151 eventually passed, but not before it and thus credit unions were saddled with such ominous and unwanted provisions as prompt corrective action. To this day, PCA stymies fast-growing credit unions and is used as a reason for converting to bank charters. Which explains why efforts to rectify PCA and other baggage from H.R. 1151 are ongoing. Hanging out there all by itself made H.R. 1151 an easy target for anti-credit union forces. In Congressional terms, it became a Christmas tree. Opponents hung some of the ugliest ornaments possible on the CU bill. As the record shows, this hoped for simple and single purpose bill quickly morphed into pages and pages of verbiage that called into question everything credit unions ever stood for. Fast forward to today. On the front burner are several bills of importance to credit unions, but two in particular. The first is H.R. 1375, the Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act. It is not a credit union stand-alone bill as the title clearly indicates. However, credit unions are very much included in its provisions. The spotlight is more on the second proposal, H.R. 3579, the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act. It is more commonly referred to as CURIA (pronounced Cure-Ree-A). This is the first “bet-the-farm” credit union legislative initiative since H.R. 1151. Being pure credit union, it faces an uphill struggle. The general consensus is that H.R.1375 has by far the best chance of the two to pass. If it plays out that way, down the road credit unions could come home from Washington, D. C, with half a loaf, as they say, which is better than none. But the credit union optimists among us feel that the full loaf could also become reality. Maybe not this year, but sooner rather than later. Realistically, the odds against CURIA becoming the law of the land are formidable. Its provisions are very controversial. For example, it would raise the cap on credit union member business loans from 12.25% of assets to 20%, the same level provided to thrifts in H.R. 1375. And it would mandate significant changes in what would be required to convert a credit union to a mutual bank charter. Pessimists are quick to point out that, as expected, banking industry opposition to CURIA was immediate and fierce. More important, many credit union friends, those Congressmen who signed on as H.R. 1151 co-sponsors and voted for its passage, have been replaced in the Halls of Congress by newcomers. Many of these new politicians know little about credit unions. Or the differences between credit unions and banks. Or why this legislation is badly needed by credit unions. But on the plus side, much has changed over the last few years. Credit unions and the powerful and respected trade groups that represent them have become a political force to be reckoned with. CUNA under CEO Dan Mica’s leadership has gained a well-deserved reputation in the always-tumultuous advocacy arena. It’s a different CUNA than it was pre-H.R. 1151. It is larger, better funded, well organized, and it has solid grassroots initiatives already in place. Today, credit unions are not only much better prepared, but have been getting ready for the next big fight for the last several years. Does “Hike the Hill,” “Project Differentiation,” “Project Zip Code,” “Access Across America,” ring any bells? And how about (depending on who’s figures you believe) 84 million credit union members (“who are more willing to stand up for their credit union more than their phone company”) as Congressman Barney Frank put it in his speech at the GAC? Plus the most effective governmental affairs professionals at the state and national levels in the history of credit unions firmly in place. And many solid PAC funds. Add to all these positive vibes one other thing that is already happening, but needs to increase ten-fold: co-sponsorships. It is hard to measure just how much better the chances a bill has of passing when it comes to the floor with dozens of co-sponsor names attached to it. Again, think back to all the co-sponsors H.R. 1151 had propelling it along. At last count, CURIA had at least two dozen co-sponsors. Among those, the most credit union friendly Congressmen urged CU audiences, no, make that pleaded with them, to do whatever they can to greatly increase that number. Congressmen already signed on know from experience that the more co-sponsors a proposed piece of legislation has, the better it will fare when it comes time to cast votes for passage. Again, realistically, CURIA hasn’t much chance of passing this session of Congress even with a record number of co-sponsors. But it sure will get noticed if a majority of lawmakers sign on this time around. And it will definitely have a much better chance of making it through the lawmaking process the next time around. Now is the time for everyone involved with credit unions to convince as many Congressmen as possible to become CURIA co-sponsors. There’s no better time for credit union spectators to get off the sidelines and in the game. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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