By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
A crusade of sorts will play out in committee meetings this week, as a select group of Republican lawmakers has joined in common cause with social reformers to pass legislation that will severely limit lower income families, single mothers, and minorities from borrowing small loans, under the banner of protecting these individuals from themselves.
Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) has championed the push to cap all loans in Alabama at a 36 percent interest rate.
In the House, Rep. Bob Fincher (R-Woodland) is sponsoring a Constitutional Amendment that would cap “certain” loans at 36 percent interest as well. Orr and Fincher, both Republican, have joined forces with Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, Alabama Appleseed, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, the Alabama Citizens’ Action Program, and the Southern Poverty Law Center to end payday and other small lenders in the State.
In a State virtually dominated by Republicans, it is unusual to see an alliance between those who claim a conservative mantle and liberal progressives who would perpetuate the Welfare State. But, this is what Orr, Fincher and some of their Republican colleagues are doing.
One Republican insider speaking on background said, “Conventional political logic would indicate that an SPLC lobbyists would find it very difficult, if not impossible to get meeting after meeting with GOP legislators; yet it is happening almost daily” [at the State House]. He said. “Conventional political logic would say that a GOP-sponsored bill encouraged by the SPLC would be as rare as Bigfoot in a supermajority-controlled legislature in the reddest state in the Union, but it is actually as common as a mosquito at this point.”
Fincher has compared payday lending to sharecropping, a practice that is synonymous with the plight of poor African-Americans after the end of the Civil War. “By the early 1870s, the system known as sharecropping had come to dominate agriculture across the cotton-planting South. Under this system, black families would rent small plots of land, or shares, to work themselves; in return, they would give a portion of their crop to the landowner at the end of the year.”
The religious fervor fueling these bills has also attracted the likes of Birmingham-based “Evangelist for the 21st century” Scott Dawson. Dawson recently purchased space for an opinion piece in Yellowhammer News.
Under the section labeled “sponsored content,” Evangelist Dawson writes, “The Bible is very clear when it comes to lending, interest rates, debt, and how we treat the underprivileged.”
But a simple Google search to find scriptural clarity on lending, interest rates, and debt returns a complex array of varying quotes and interpretations from the Old Testament and the New. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “In the Christian era, the New Testament is silent on the subject; the passage in St. Luke (vi, 34, 35), which some persons interpret as a condemnation of interest, is only an exhortation to general and disinterested benevolence.”
At the website, Canon Law Made Easy, they say there is no current Canon Law on usury.
It appears, from a Biblical perceptive, that borrowing and lending is a mixed bag of ideologies. But beyond the competing Biblical interpretations is the odd alliance between known adversarial groups. As one Republican insider asked, “Why is the [Republican] supermajority so willing to allow a Soros-funded ultra liberal group dictate so much of their legislation.”
Orr, while championing a cause supported by the State’s leading liberal groups, is, on the other hand, routinely fighting to place restrictions on programs such as SNAP, Food Stamps, and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), which help the most destitute Alabamians.
But these bills to limit lending to 36 percent interest began with baseless claims of support among Republicans, by paid political operatives, registered and unregistered, citing old resolutions and outdated press reports.