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House, Senate committees pass rewrites of banking laws

House and Senate commerce committees approved massive but differing rewrites of Florida's banking laws Monday, both by unanimous votes.

The Senate panel, on a voice vote, added to its bill a provision that would restore an 18 percent interest rate limit on credit cards. The limit was lifted last year. The House version would allow such rates to remain unregulated.

Before voting to introduce its proposed committee bill, the House panel weakened provisions dealing with ethics and election contributions to the state's chief bank regulator. The Senate bill doesn't address those issues.

The House bill also provides for public access to some records of failed banks that now are permanently sealed. The bill originally called for access after 30 days, but the provision has been changed to two years. Some banking industry representatives reportedly have resisted the change. The Senate version doesn't address changes in the records laws.

The ethics and campaign changes were designed to meet objections by House Speaker T. K. Wetherell, D-Daytona Beach, and others. In that respect, it strengthens the bill's chances of passing, said Commerce Committee Chairman Art Simon, D-Miami.

"Nothing that happened here today in any way, shape or form distracted from the bill," Simon said.

The House committee removed language that would have prohibited state-chartered financial institutions or any of their employees, directors, lobbyists or affiliates from offering jobs or any favor or payment to any employee of the state Department of Banking and Finance for speeches or writings.

The panel substituted a narrower provision that would prohibit only officers, directors and employees of banks from giving a loan or gratuity to employees of the department's banking division.

The department is headed by an elected state comptroller.

The committee voted to prohibit campaign contributions to comptroller candidates from officers, directors and subsidiaries, rejecting a $100 limit that would have been applied to all bank employees.

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