Each new Congress presents unique opportunities and challenges, and the 109th Congress that was gaveled into session on Jan. 4 is likely to be no different. NAFCU’s leaders and lobbyists were fortunate to meet with many key legislators when they returned; and though I am not one to make predictions, I do believe that by the end of this Congress-by the fall of 2006-we will have secured important regulatory relief that will enhance the continued success of the credit union community. Whether those regulatory relief provisions are part of a stand-alone credit union bill (as in the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act introduced last year by Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa.) or a larger regulatory relief package, credit unions will likely see a number of changes they have been seeking for the past several years, including: broadening federal credit unions’ investment authority; permitting land leases at a “nominal” cost on Department of Defense facilities; raising the 12-year loan limit to at least 15 years; allowing voluntary mergers and conversions involving multiple-common-bond CUs without numerical limitations; and allowing CUs that convert to a community charter to continue serving their SEGs. In addition, NAFCU will attempt to secure several other very important industry changes, such as risk-based capital, a redefinition of the statutory definition of “net worth” so that the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s new business combination rule does not adversely impact credit union mergers, relaxation of the “reasonable proximity” requirement and an increase in the MBL threshold. I also fully expect the bankers to do everything in their power to impede our legislative efforts and to attack the credit union tax exemption. Meeting the bankers’ challenges head on, whether in the halls of Congress or in the op-ed sections of the local and national press, will continue to be a top priority for NAFCU. I believe it is precisely because of credit unions’ collective and coordinated efforts that the bankers will only realize failure in their effort in this regard in the 109th Congress. NAFCU will once again make the passage of meaningful bankruptcy reform an important goal. As we discussed with House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) recently, we hope the new make-up of Congress-with a stronger Republican majority-will work to our advantage in finally bringing this elusive, but necessary, reform to fruition. Of course, once a bill becomes law, credit unions face a whole new set of hurdles-the rulemaking process and compliance with final regulations. A prime example of this dynamic is the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act), which was signed into law in December 2003 and promises to generate at least 26 separate rules. The most recent FACT Act final rule coming from NCUA (and from the Federal Trade Commission for state charters) amends the security program regulations and NCUA’s Guidelines for Safeguarding Member Information established in a new Part 717. The effective date for this particular regulation is July 1, 2005, and while the procedures now in place for credit unions will hopefully make for minimal compliance headaches, it is simply one more burden on the shoulders of credit unions in running their operations. Another law that presents compliance bumps in the road and impacts public perception of financial institutions (including credit unions) is the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act (Check 21). The purpose of Check 21 is to facilitate the broader use of electronic check processing without mandating that any financial institution change its current check collection practice. But as the regulation implementing Check 21 went into effect this past October, some critics suggested that financial institutions will keep the same “hold” times and thus earn additional interest unfairly by clearing checks more quickly and denying members/customers prompt access to their funds. NAFCU has pointed out that many credit unions already grant their members provisional credit immediately, which can later be reversed if there is an error with the deposit. One way NAFCU has helped credit unions navigate these regulatory changes is by building a top-notch compliance staff, developing programs that provide the necessary tools for compliance officers and other professionals to navigate the ever-rising sea of regulations, and creating informational material for credit unions to distribute to their members. An important priority for us this year is to maintain and build upon those capabilities through our ongoing educational programs. This year also marks the start of a second term for President George W. Bush. The president has already announced plans to reform Social Security, cut the federal deficit over a five-year period and appoint a “citizens’ panel” to recommend ways to reform the federal tax code. I was fortunate to receive an early look at some of these plans when I attended the White House Conference on the Economy. Needless to say, all of these issues could have far-reaching implications for credit unions as financial services providers and as employers, and NAFCU will be keeping a watchful eye as debate on these matters begins in earnest later this year. In addition to preserving credit unions’ federal tax exemption, pressing for regulatory relief for credit unions and working to enhance the value of the federal charter, NAFCU will also have these issues on its priority list for 2005: * building on the successes of NAFCU/PAC and NAFCU’s activities at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions to further strengthen NAFCU’s relationship with members of Congress; * seeking an alternative capital solution that meets credit unions’ needs, satisfies prompt corrective action requirements, preserves CUs’ not-for-profit, member-owned and cooperative structure and upholds safety and soundness; * continuing to expand credit unions’ mortgage lending opportunities; * educating Congress and the public about credit unions’ service to communities, their challenges to predatory lending practices and contributions to financial literacy; * continuing to provide educational programs that set the standard for the credit union community; * providing NAFCU members expanded mortgage lending opportunities through our alliance with Fannie Mae, and, * giving NAFCU members, working through NAFCU Services Corporation, ever-enhanced opportunities to improve their bottom lines.
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