|So you think that filing legislation is easy? Straightforward? Easy? (Im) Possible?
Alexandra (Alex) Knowles, an Upham's Corner youth, has been learning
about filing legislation the hard way. A good analogy, perhaps, is deciding that
climbing Mt. Everest is doable. You do the research, prepare yourself for the
journey, expect the best and then discover that circumstances well
beyond your control have led you where you never expected, and in
particular, not to the mountain top.
In 2010 Alex conducted research to determine what laws exist in the
Commonwealth of MA to control the fees that check cashing businesses
can charge customers. This led her to formulate a bill to set a cap on
check cashing fees which Rep. Carlos Henriquez filed as H01880 on
January 20, 2011.
It's now August 2011 (7 months later) and H01880 has made progress. The Consumer
Protection and Professional Licensure Committee
held a public hearing where the bill seemed to be well received.
Alex's hopes were high. Much later on, when the bill left commiittee (much to Alex's
surprise), it had not only been
substantially altered (many of its teeth had been pulled) but it had been sent
out of committee under new ownership.
So much for good intentions and
hard work. Or so you might imagine, but the efforts are ongoing.
Alex is now working with Rep. Henriquez on amendments to the bill to
restore some of the original strength that will put an effective cap on
fees charged by check cashing companies.
Following is detailed information on the committee hearing, what people
had to say and why the bill, as originally written is so
important. Also you will find links to the original bill and the
rewritten bill that came out of committee.
|1. Alex has created the website: Fair Fees for Families. There you can read more in depth about the legislation and its importance.
2. Also take the time to sign the petition. Petition at ipetitions.com
3. Contact your state rep or senator. They only need five phone calls or e-mails for a bill
to be "on their radar" - it gets (at least a little bit) more attention
than other bills. Encourage them to co-sponsor the amendments.
Rep. Henriquez has sent a letter to the committee and the
Reps/Senators in Boston asking for their co-sponsorship for his
amendments to H. 3567. For more information:
|House bill H01880 was scheduled
for a hearing on May 24, 2011. So Alex and friends approached people
who were willing to give testimony in its favor. But first she met with
Marianne Hughes, a former lobbyist, who taught her about the technical,
political and organizational aspect of testimonies - all of which are
I also met with the committee chair, Theodore Speliotis. He was
really adamant about not listening to the same story over and over
again. So I set up people to give testimony and everyone was given
three minutes to speak."
|Rep. Carlos Henriquez
||He introduced the bill as its primary
sponsor, talked about the technical aspects of the bill -
Then he told a personal
story about his experience with using a check cashing facility and how
different they are from banks.
- who uses
- where they live,
- why check cashers are important
- why controlling fees is also important.
|She co-sponsored the bill and voiced her support for the bill.
started out by describing the basic situation - why many inner city
residents use check cashing businesses instead of banks. I used that
to build up to the bill and its purposes. It was at that point that
people started applauding. There were 400 people in the room and the
vast majority knew what the issue was.
My testimony was technical because I talked about the percentages being
charged and why I picked the percentages that are in the bill.
I used Illinois as a good model state because the final fee selected
was worked out as a compromise between patrons and business owners to
which everyone agreed. I used the Illinois fee in how I wrote the
legislation. Also Illinois seems to have metropolitan areas similar to
Massachusetts. Another good model state was Connecticut.
The committee asked me about high-risk checks based on the assumption
that high check cashing fees are needed to cover high-risk
checks. I was able to tell them that based on research carried
out in 2009, the dollar value of returned checks amounted to 0.31% of
The committee also asked about who owns check cashing companies - mom
and pop owners or large corporations. I explained that there are
three major chains in Massachusetts: Boston check cashiers,
Grahams and and Walmart. Walmart is one of the biggest chains
legislated under 169A.
||She is the director of Agency Alpha, an immigration services program.
She spoke about the people who were being affected by the check
cashiers. She pulled out a couple specific examples of people that she
knew - it woman named Rosemary and a guy named Pedro.
She said: "I represent the Pedro's and Rosemary's of
Massachusetts" and talked about the legislation from that
Rep. Broder asked if there were things being done to get people bank
accounts. Does Agency Alpha work towards that goal?
Ms. Lopez explained that "Agency Alpha is a
documentation and immigration services company organization.
While they could be talking about bank accounts it is not one of their
mandates. There are other programs in other locations that do try
get people involved in basic banking services."
|Rep from Melrose
|He said that "This was a common sense bill and it made sense to pass it."
|Pastor Roberto Miranda
Miranda came representing Lion of Judah and Cophani, a coalition of
Latino pastors. He recently stepped down as the president
of this organization. The organization represents about 40 Latino
churches in the greater Boston area.
He talked primarily about the language barrier - Latino
immigrants having a hard time opening bank accounts because of language
barriers, minimum deposit is required, just general lack of
understanding of the system, being very intimidated, being intimidated
by the system and coming from other countries and cultures where you
didn't really have banking systems or banking might have been corrupt.
|He talked about the fact that when the youth get summer jobs, they generally do not
have bank accounts. So they do go check cashiers to cash their summer
checks. As an example he talked about how DSNI has been working to get youth bank
accounts. Because of their age, it is really difficult.
John emphasized the fact that we have a societal disconnect. So
much importance is placed on giving youth summer employment but
introducing them to the banking system does not take place because the
banks won't allow it. Their only choice is to use their parents
or check cashing businesses, so instead of being introduced to adult
behavior, they are kept away from it.
After all the testimony was complete, the chair asked the question: Is there anybody who stands in opposition
to the bill? Nobody was present who said they were in opposition.
|Demeris Lopez was definitely the most passionate
and most personal speaker. John Barros' testimony was the most
unique. I didn't know in advance what he was going to say.
He later told us that he had taken to heart what the chair of the
committee had said - namely no
repetition. John said that he was very clear and adamant about
wanting to repeat what anybody else had said. The whole time
testimony was being given, he was strategizing about what he should say
based on what he had just heard. "What difference can I bring
up" he thought to himself, "than what other people have already brought
When John focused on the teens, it seems he was able
to communicate effectively with all of the people listening - no matter
where they lived and no matter if they understood the issue of check
cashing or not.
a topic that anyone can understand - whether you are rich or
poor. You could tell that almost everybody on the panel was of an
age that they had children - teens or older. John Barros
testimony focused on was a topic that
crossed racial lines. It was something that everybody could
with. Furthermore, it tied check cashing and the banking system
into our educational system (or lack thereof).
What John did was add a dimension beyond immigration and language
barrier issues. He brought it down to the teenagers and everyone
knows who they are.
After the April 26, 2011 hearing the next step is for the
committee to vote on the bill. If they support it, then it goes
onto the calendar for a house session. That's when the representatives
do the talking.
|As of July 30, 2011, Alex stated that "Things are finally moving on the check cashing bill."
Here's the update:
Chairman of the Consumer Protection Committee, Rep Theodore Speliotis,
decided that the fees we originally presented (1.5% for
checks $100 and under, 2.25% for checks over $100) were too low.
What he did was look at the other states' laws on check cashers, and
redrafted our bill. He also refiled the bill listing himself as
the sole sponsor, and didn't consult Rep. Henriquez before refiling.
The issue with this redraft is that the fees he has suggested will have
little to no effect on check cashers in Massachusetts. His
redraft was immediately voted on by the committee and reported
favorably to the Committee on Scheduling.
Rep. Henriquez and I are currently writing amendments to Speliotis'
redraft, which will be debated in the House in the next session.
----- Alex Knowles