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March Madness Begins, and Ends…

By Lorenzo Cruz

March Madness marks the start of the NCAA basketball tournament and the conclusion to an active 2022 legislative session for the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) government relations (GR) team.

A Successful Legislative Session in the Books

WBA successfully defeated two bills which would have negatively impacted the banking industry. AB 478/SB 451 would have broadened the powers of credit unions by allowing for: non-member participation in loans, the ability to issue and offer supplemental forms of capital for all credit unions, the automatic adoption of federally chartered credit union activities or powers for state-chartered credit unions, and the broadening of the authority of credit unions on holding property. During the negotiations, it became evident that the priority for the Wisconsin Credit Union League (WCUL) was their supplemental capital change which contributed to the demise of the bill. WBA effectively lobbied and defeated the bills in the Assembly and Senate.

Another piece of legislation that drew a great amount of WBA’s lobbying attention was a bill related to interchange fees. AB 587/SB 572 would have prohibited the application of the interchange fee to the tax portion of the credit card transaction and would have provided a penalty for a violation. A retailer coalition advocated aggressively for the legislative change and WBA, WCUL, and several credit card companies opposed the effort. If passed, the bill would have required credit card companies to implement a split tender transaction for purchasing products or services, which means customers would have to swipe their credit card for the retail sum purchase and then pay with either cash or check for the tax portion of the transaction. WBA warned legislators of the cost shift, customer confusion and frustration that could follow from the change. The bills died in the Senate and Assembly Financial Institutions Committees.

Other bills worth noting are AB 596/SB 596 related to banking modernization and AB 45/SB 19 and AB 46/ SB 20 related to elder fraud. The banking modernization bill would have removed outdated regulation and other impediments to banking and the elder fraud bill would have provided banks with more tools to help protect older customers from fraud and abuse. The legislative proposals passed overwhelmingly in one House but then failed to be acted upon in committee or placed on the calendar for a floor vote. In some ways, the bills became collateral damage from the credit union battle. WBA did make considerable progress on both issues and will collaborate with legislators to reintroduce similar bills in the next legislative session.

Looking Ahead to Next Year

With the end of the March session, WBA GR shifts the team’s focus to political fundraising, member outreach, and strategic planning for the 2023 session. Many of the legislative issues identified above will return and be debated in the next state budget or advanced as separate pieces of legislation. WBA needs to prepare and lay the groundwork for the fight ahead on these critical public policy initiatives.

All members — big, medium, and small — must be more engaged financially in the political process and committed to grassroots advocacy to advance the industry’s priorities. Political campaigns have continued to trend upwards in cost, and the 2022 fall elections should see more spending records broken for state and federal races. With control for the East Wing in play and majorities at stake in both State and Federal Houses, expect hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent in Wisconsin which has become a battleground state for the rest of the country. WBA can ill afford to be a spectator. Sitting on the sidelines runs the risk of electing anti-banking candidates which could have severe negative consequences for our industry. It is imperative to have the political funds in place for WBA to support pro-banking incumbent legislators and challengers. Individual members are strongly encouraged to give to the Wisbankpac or Alliance of Bankers for Wisconsin (ABW) Conduit and corporations are urged to contribute generously to WBA’s issue advocacy fund. For more information go to www.wisbank.com/give.