Procedural Tactics At Houston City Hall Could Delay Payday Lender Regulations

Houston City Council
photo by: Matt-Brawley
Houston could soon have new regulations for the payday and auto title lending industry. But a procedural tactic might push the proposed ordinance into lengthy delays.

A proposed ordinance to regulate payday lending practices would cap how much money people can borrow.

It would also restrict how many times a consumer can renew or rollover a loan, among other regulations.

Houston Councilmembers Jerry Davis and Andrew Burks tagged the ordinance this week, which in this case could have significant consequences.

Mustafa Tameez is a political analyst who knows the ins and outs of City Hall.

"When something comes for a vote on city council, councilmembers have the right to tag that and what that means is that the vote is delayed for a week while they get further information. If a councilmember is not present during that tag, they have a right to tag it the following week."

And that's where things get interesting.

This is probably a good time to point out that Tameez has a horse in this race: he's a consultant for the coalition of organizations that want to pass the new regulations.

"The rumors in City Hall are that Councilmember James Rodriguez wasn't here today because it gives him the ability to tag this next week when he's here."

"And what does that mean?"

"Well, next week's meeting is the last meeting for city council this year. And as of next year, there'll be a whole new city council. The industry doesn't have the votes to oppose this payday lending ordinance, and so there are rumors running rampant around city hall that this is a tactic being used. It's a Washington D.C.-style tactic."

Councilmember James Rodriguez says he missed the meeting because he had to be out of town on a personal matter. But he admits he's not thrilled with the proposed ordinance and he will use every legislative tool at his disposal if need be.

"It's a councilmember's prerogative to tag items, it always has been. And you know I would hope that the administration would look at a compromise. I understand industry has been at the table trying to work out a deal for several months. And that's what I'd like to see. I'd like to see us negotiate."

Rodriguez says he favors a compromise with the payday lenders that would be less restrictive. If one can be reached in the next few days, he'll support the ordinance.

But Houston Mayor Annise Parker doesn't appear likely to budge on her proposal. When asked about the scuttlebutt at City Hall, she did what politicians do best.

"You're implying that he is doing this on the behest of the payday lending industry and there's some ... "

Reporter: "I am only relaying what has been implied to me."

"Yes, it could throw. He has the ability — through procedural moves — to throw it into the next calendar year. But I fully expect to have it passed in January if it doesn't pass this calendar year."

If Rodriguez tags the ordinance next week, it will be delayed for a vote until January 8th, when at least four and as many as six newcomer councilmembers will be seated around the table.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...