Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lenders and lawyers among those targeted by consumer legislation
by Maggie Lee
Georgia Online News Service

Second of two articles

Allison Wall, executive director of the Georgia Watch, often has a tough job battling for consumers issues at Georgia Capitol. But she's looking forward to a bill this year that gives some relief to homeowners, renters and municipalities, one that may help "clean up the mortgage broker industry here in Georgia."

Senate Bill 57 would throw a lifeline to homeowners mixed up in so-called foreclosure rescue scams. These are short-term, often predatory loans, made against a property deed. The law would treat these loans as mortgages, giving homeowners more rights to maintain possession of a home.

Renters get a little more protection from insolvent landlords in the bill. The bill would require 60 days' notice for renters of good standing to move out of a building in case of foreclosure. Current law provides only seven days.

The bill requires future sub-prime lenders to be "reasonable", extending only loans which could realistically be repaid considering a buyer's income, credit history, current debts, employment, and other factors. It also bans prepayment penalties.

"We're excited about this bill because it's got remedies for people today and it also provides reforms and remedies to help Georgia avoid this mortgage crisis situation in the future," Wall says.

She notes one revenue generator for municipalities: deeds acquired through foreclosure will have to be reported more promptly, allowing communities to have a clear map of blighted spots and the data to allow them to tap in to federal rehabilitation funds.

At least two more major consumer protection bills are expected to come up this session: one on marketing long-term annuities to seniors, another on greater disclosure for tax refund anticipation loans.

The anticipated annuities bill is patterned after laws in other states that ban inappropriate marketing of annuities to people who are statistically unlikely to live long enough to see the payoff. Similar laws in other states have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars being returned to elderly clients.

The other bill would tone down advertising for so-called instant tax refunds, by requiring tax preparers to tell customers that many of them can actually get tax refunds in as little as10 days via electronic filing and direct deposit. Right now, these refunds are nothing but disguised high-interest, short-term loans, say critics. Some of these loans plus interest exceed the tax refund actually received, if any. Rep. Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna) introduced similar legislation last year.

And a certain category of lawyers may get hit with disclosure legislation like their tax-preparing brethren. Lawyers who advertise on television must play themselves rather than hiring an actor if Senate Bill 41 becomes law. Furthermore, the attorneys must also clearly state that they're licensed to practice and must personally consult with any client hooked by the television ad. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland), is now in committee.

Maggie Lee specializes in quality of life topics, Atlanta's international communities and general reporting. She covers Georgia economic development and the Chinese community as a stringer for China Daily and chronicles life in Georgia's most diverse county for the DeKalb Champion.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia! I've had a few questions from folks – media and civic and political leaders – asking me to explain the Georgia Online News Service (GONSO). Without being too grandiose, our purpose is to preserve quality journalism in Georgia at a time when news organizations are shrinking.

We were founded by concerned journalists, business leaders and educators, and after months of planning, we launched two weeks ago. Our "inventory" is a roster of about 30 of the most talented journalists in the state. We're providing GONSO content free for a few weeks – but we're a business, and our goal is to become the source of premium content to newspapers and broadcasters in the state.

The menu of the Georgia Online News Service (GONSO) today is topped with squirrel meat. No kidding. Larry Wilkerson writes about how this meat, popular in many corners of the South, is catching on among our distant cousins in Jolly Old England.

On a more serious note, Tom Baxter, one of the most authoritative political writers in Georgia, examines the communications – or lack thereof – between Georgia officials and the Obama administration. And, in the second of two articles about consumer legislation pending in the Georgia General Assembly, Maggie Lee takes a look at bills that would do everything from cracking down on "foreclosure rescue" scams to making sure that lawyers who advertise on TV must play themselves and not use actors.

Finally, in today's Soapbox, W. Todd Groce, CEO of the Georgia Historical Society, warns that Gov. Sonny Perdue's plan to eliminate state funding for the group will mean "a citizenry less educated, less informed about its past, less prepared for the future."

As always, send your comments and suggestions to john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org or call 800-891-3459.

-- John F. Sugg, Executive Editor


Today's GONSO

There's little conversation between Georgia and Obama administration

by Tom Baxter
How do Georgia and the Obama administration talk to each other? In a roundabout fashion, you might say, but with a keen sense of urgency on both sides.

The complicated business of how state and federal officials establish lines of communication is always an important matter after a change of administrations, but never more so than this year, with the Obama administration desperate to get economic stimulus money out to the nerve ends of the economy, and states frozen on the edge of a deepening chasm of debt.

Full Story

Lenders and lawyers among those targeted by consumer legislation

by Maggie Lee
Allison Wall, executive director of the Georgia Watch, often has a tough job battling for consumers issues at Georgia Capitol. But she's looking forward to a bill this year that gives some relief to homeowners, renters and municipalities, one that may help "clean up the mortgage broker industry here in Georgia."

Senate Bill 57 would throw a lifeline to homeowners mixed up in so-called foreclosure rescue scams. These are short-term, often predatory loans, made against a property deed. The law would treat these loans as mortgages, giving homeowners more rights to maintain possession of a home.

Full Story

Brits are wrong by not serving squirrel with most important meal of the day

by Larry Wilkerson
Our distant British cousins, out to protect their environment and their native red squirrels against threats posed by an immense population of gray ones introduced long ago, are barking up the right tree: They've begun to eat the invaders like crazy.

Reporting from London for The New York Times early this month, Marlena Spieler wrote that "squirrel is selling as fast as gamekeepers and hunters can bring it in."

Full Story

SOAPBOX

Sonny Perdue's message to Georgia Historical Society: Drop dead

by Todd Groce
The Georgia Historical Society's state funding has been deeply slashed. We've been hit by the Secretary of State's office with an immediate elimination of nearly $75,000 of funding needed this fiscal year to operate our library and archives in Savannah, effectively ending a relationship that began in 1966. We have also absorbed a 10 percent reduction in funding for the historical markers program. But the worst is yet to come. Gov. Sonny Perdue has recommended the elimination of our entire state appropriation, $327,275, representing 15 percent of our current operating budget - in the fiscal year 2010 budget.

What do these cuts mean for you? In the short term, they mean limited access to history: no more historical markers will be erected, thus ending a program that started in 1954; severely curtailed library and archives research hours; the end of any hope Georgia had to participate in the national 150th anniversary of the Civil War; the loss of billions of tourist dollars which might have helped to improve our economy and to create jobs.

Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
Nuke Financing Passes Committee, Goes to Full Senate
by Maggie Lee
Eight months in a cloud of dust and paperwork lead to GSU's very first football players
by Wendy Parker
Capitol Debts to Pay
by Hollis Gillespie
Vouchers are the way schools can improve themselves
by Senator Eric Johnson

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