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The QueQue

The QueQue: Ramen noodles, Bexar County, and wage theft, LGBT discrimination and SA city codes, Bernal driving out the moneychangers

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The group hopes to see council take up the issue before the end of 2012. Likely? Bernal still supports the idea but hasn't yet determined how or when to push the policy forward. Castro's office did not respond to calls for comment.

Bernal driving out the moneychangers

Bernal doesn't pull punches explaining his thoughts on payday lenders. In a room teeming with lobbyists and supporters of the payday and title loan industry at council's governance committee meeting Wednesday he chided the industry's "just barely, not quite criminal practices."

Bernal's endured a steady stream of lobbying from the payday and auto title lending industry since officially announcing his plan to draft a city ordinance cracking down on the practice. In absence of any real state regulation, Bernal wants a local ordinance capping payday loans at 20 percent of a borrower's gross monthly income. He suggests limiting title loans to either 3 percent of a borrower's gross annual income or 70 percent of the vehicle value, whichever's less.

The council committee told city legal staff to draw up an ordinance and bring it back in August for consideration. That ordinance will almost certainly look like similar ordinances passed in other Texas cities — measures that have already provoked lawsuits from the payday lending industry.

At council's governance committee meeting, Bernal said he's reviewed over 100 loan contracts since starting his effort, and that none fell below a 230 percent interest rate. "I have one here that's 616 percent," he said.

After the meeting, Tim Von Kennell, executive director of the industry group Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, or CSAT, said his organization doesn't think cities in Texas "have the authority to regulate the industry. Our preference is statewide legislation." CSAT has already sued both Dallas and Austin after those cities passed similar measures tightening payday lending practices.

There's a reason Bernal's left to pass regulation at the city level. Payday cash rained down on the Texas capital last time legislators attempted to pass reforms that would have regulated the industry. Payday lenders spent at least $3.9 million (and possibly even as much as $8.4 million) lobbying Texas lawmakers before the last legislative session. In the two-year 2010 election cycle, the industry dished out nearly $1.4 million to Texas politicos, 76 percent of it to GOP members and 24 percent to Democrats. And guess who topped TPJ's list of politicians with the "biggest predatory paydays"? The big four: Speaker of the House Joe Straus ($142,632), Gov. Rick Perry ($121,460), Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst ($109,000), and Attorney General Greg Abbott ($52,500). •

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