Paul Rolly: Republicans square off in Utah’s payday-lending debate

By PAUL ROLLY

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: February 28, 2014 08:58AM
Updated: February 27, 2014 09:52PM
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Paul Rolly, Tribune columnist

Utah’s debate about regulation of payday lenders has primarily been Republicans vs. Republicans.

It’s been about some Republicans viciously trying to destroy the political career of a fellow Republican who wanted to rein in an industry seen by many as predatory.

It’s been about Republicans raising great sums of money to elect other Republicans, who will then be in a position to use their offices to protect lenders against regulators appointed by Republicans.

Lately, it’s been about the head Republican, state GOP Chairman James Evans, arguing with other Republicans who are united behind legislation imposing more rules. He wants to put the whole thing on hold.

But give Evans this: When he recently approached Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, about shelving his HB127 into a study committee for a year, he did it honestly and aboveboard and offered a reasonable argument.

Evans noted the bill comes on the heels of a yearlong scandal involving former Attorney General John Swallow and his dealings with the payday-lending industry.

The longtime owner of a payday-lending chain, Evans said the bill’s timing seemed like retribution for perceived shady practices by some check-cashing companies tied to the Swallow scandal.

Evans insists his overture was not a self-preservation ploy since Dunnigan’s bill codifies the best practices of most of the industry, including his own company.

In the end, Dunnigan pressed forward with his bill. It cleared the House, sailed through the Senate Business and Labor Committee on Thursday and appears headed to final passage.

And while the personal lobbying came from the state leader of his own party, there is no sign Dunnigan will suffer the fate of the last Republican legislator who took on payday lenders.

Former Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, fell victim to a flurry of campaign fliers in his district accusing him of all sorts of sins, including being a Barack Obama supporter, without ever mentioning his push to regulate payday lenders.

Turns out, the money for the anti-Daw campaign came from payday-lending interests laundered through other political-action committees.

Now that’s retribution.

Trick question? I wrote last week about a junior high English teacher complaining about Granite School District’s thrice-a-year Acuity testing program that she alleges has little instructional value and wastes the time of teachers and students just to show a district progress report.

District officials told me at the time that the complaints came from just a few disgruntled teachers. I since have received several calls and emails from Granite educators asserting broad frustration with Acuity.

My favorite email came from a teacher who included a sample question from an Acuity “screener” test designed to be reviewed by teachers before going to students.

Check out this third-grade math question from the latest batch:

4 x 9 — Which has the same product?

A. 3 x 5 B. 4 x 3 C. 3 x 4 D. 2 x 5.

A Utah-restricted product • The Legislature is debating whether the legal age for buying tobacco products should be raised from 19 to 21.

But what about bottle openers?

At the Utah Jazz game Wednesday night, fans entering EnergySolutions Arena received high-tech bottle openers — if they were at least 21 years old.

Why the age limit? The promotional items carried a Coors imprint.

Wonder if they were packaged behind a Zion Curtain.

prolly@sltrib.com