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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – The Vermont legislature over in Montpelier is half-way through its current two-year session and the really major topics – including health care, taxes and the state budget – aren’t on the Vermont Credit Union League’s “must comment” list. So it could be time for the state’s credit union people, including league lobbyist Joseph Bergeron, to ease back for a while. Not really, Bergeron says. Working with the legislature is an on-going process. In addition, there are always subjects being debated that would potentially impact Vermont credit unions, even if those issues aren’t necessarily making headlines. The league has been seeking feedback from member credit unions on laws working committees in the legislature may propose, including: * Confidential use of Social Security numbers by financial institutions. * Altering the process for dealing with disposal of foreclosed real estate and handling surplus equity resulting from the sale of the property by the lender. * Debit card account holds. “There are no large-scale financial institution issues out there, but there are always a number of consumer-related or financial institution-related pieces of legislation that get introduced we need to get involved in,” Bergeron says. For example, he is monitoring the issue of Social Security number use to see what direction that might take. “It has been worked on pretty extensively, and we have some folks that have been monitoring that and offering input. We want to educate legislators on how credit unions and other financial institutions use Social Security numbers. We want to respond to committee members on what would work and what wouldn’t work,” Bergeron says. “Another one we’re working on has to do with account holds placed on debit card transactions. I understand that is an issue that is being dealt with not only in Vermont but elsewhere.” He notes some common scenarios where a merchant places a hold on a portion of a member’s checking account in excess of what is actually charged on the debit card. For example, a consumer may use a debit card to pay for gasoline at the pump. The gasoline station wants to make certain that card is good. The station isn’t certain exactly how much gas the consumer is going to pump, so the station puts a hold of $50 even though the consumer pumps $30 of gasoline. Although only $30 comes out of the checking account, a hold for an additional $20 remains for an extra day or so. “That needs a combination of the merchant, the processor and the card issuing institution to work together and come up with a solution,” Bergeron says. “We’re trying to educate legislators so we don’t end up with a piece of legislation that is well-intended but onerous and burdensome to financial institutions.” A bill concerning disposal of foreclosed real estate is another subject. Current Vermont law provides that, under certain circumstances, the proceeds above and beyond what is needed to pay off the debt may be retained by the financial institution. “But I don’t think that’s a very common practice, and in fact I don’t know of anybody who does that,” Bergeron says. Overall, Bergeron believes credit unions are growing increasingly savvy about political issues. “I think there’s a lot more awareness on the part of Vermont credit unions of the political process in Washington as well as right here in Vermont,” Bergeron says. “I judge that by how they react when we put out a call for action or ask for input on a particular issue. “We’ve done a lot of hard work the past couple years to heighten the profile of credit unions in the Vermont statehouse. We need to be involved even when we’re not trying to get something pushed through.” -

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