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Around the Hill and Agency Happenings: The ‘dogs days’ of summer but Congress continues its Work

Mon, Jul 20, 2015

Columbia, Maryland

NCUA Hearing:  On Friday, July 17, the House Committee on Financial Services officially announced an upcoming hearing entitled “National Credit Union Administration Operations and Budget.”  The hearing will take place on Friday, July 24 @ 9:15 AM under the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. As it currently stands, NCUA Chair Debbie Matz is the only scheduled witness. The advocacy team had received advance notice of the hearing from Hill sources and has been working with Hill staff to get our message points placed in the mix. The team will be monitoring the hearing and update stakeholders with any news of note.

Patent Reform:
Last week, House Majority Whip McCarthy announced the Patent Reform bill would not be on the [House] floor this month for vote.  According to Judiciary Committee staff sources, there is growing Republican opposition to the current bill, so now the bill is being hit from both sides of the aisle. A bipartisan group of lawmakers feel the bill being rushed through the House without adequate debate on what it could do to smaller inventors.

You will recall, that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, reintroduced the Innovation Act, which passed the House in 2013 but died in the Senate. The revamped bill recently passed the Judiciary Committee, 24 votes to 8. The reform bill is aimed at cracking down on so-called “patent trolls” to discourage plaintiffs in patent lawsuits from dragging out cases over vague patent infringements in order to bank on settlements. The bill would require plaintiffs to disclose the owner of a patent before a lawsuit is filed and explain why they are suing, and would require courts to determine the validity of patent cases early in the process.

Some opponents feel the bill is over-correcting what is an isolated problem, while weakening small innovators’ ability to assert their patent rights while lawmakers focus on reining in “patent trolls,” mostly shell companies that buy up vague patents with the intent of suing other companies for infringement. When there is word officially or unofficially of next steps on the bill, the team will provide updates. 

Community Bank Sensible Regulation Act of 2015:
The Bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and would exempt community banks from certain rules and regulations of the FDIC, OCC and the Fed. The bill as currently written does not cite credit unions. In a floor statement for S. 1799, Colins said the bill is designed to would allow financial regulators to exempt community banks from unnecessary and unduly burdensome requirements, “if doing so is in the public interest.” The bill would apply to all financial institutions with less than $10-billion and provide relief “from highly complex regulations designed to protect our financial system from systemic risks that would arise from the failure of larger banks,” Collins cited industry data that the cost of complying with regulations absorbs 12% of total bank operating expenses, and is two-and-a-half times greater for small banks than for large banks. Regardless of how far the bill goes, our team will continue to work with our Congressional representatives to reinforce the message that the regulatory burdens for small institutions applies to credit unions, too.

US Postal Service: Expanding Financial Services?
The Postal Service is continuing to explore opportunities in providing financial services, especially in ‘underserved communities,’ with proposals that build on services it already offers, partnerships with banks and credit unions, or a full-fledged “post bank.” A new report recently released by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General, called “The Road Ahead for Postal Financial Services” explores the idea that the Postal Service could provide products that “could benefit the 68 million underserved Americans who either do not have a bank account or rely on expensive services like payday lending and check cashing.”

Given its presence in every neighborhood, “including many places where there are no longer any bank branches,” the report highlights products such as Bill Payment, Money Transfer, and Check Cashing also could help the Postal Service “generate new revenue. The Postal Service notes that it is already the largest single provider of paper money orders in the United States, having sold $21 billion worth of money orders in fiscal year 2014, bringing in $165 million in revenue. It also offers prepaid cards, international money transfers, and limited check cashing.

The report from the Postal Service examines potential approaches it could take including examining ways it could partner with one or more banks, credit unions, or other organizations to provide products like reloadable prepaid cards and small loans.  However, the report also considers the Postal Service establishing its own full-fledged ‘post bank.’  It is worth noting that an earlier report on this these issues (Jan. 2015) from the Postal Service was met by pushback from many parties, including credit unions, which questioned whether the USPS needs to be in the financial services business.  The team will keep stakeholders updated on any movement (which would require Congressional approval) on this front.

For more information: Glen Cooney, VP, Advocacy & Legislative Affairs, 443-325-0775, gcooney@mddccua.org.