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Former speaker of the house Robbie Wills working for a lenders' group

Consider it a chance for the newly empowered Republican Party to show its legislative muscle as well as its good intentions.

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Many former legislators become lobbyists, and it's usually to their discredit, unless they've been largely discredited already. Even those who had decent legislative records tend to turn sour. The special interests who hire lobbyists — the utilities, the insurance companies, the nursing homes, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. — value efficiency more than virtue.

Former speakers of the House seem to be particularly sought as spokesmen for less-than-worthy causes. Robbie Wills, who was speaker in the last legislative session, is working for a lenders' group this time, and seeking passage of legislation that would expose Arkansas consumers to more of the loan sharking that was believed to have been ended. Every shark is entitled to one more bite seems to be the idea. Possibly more than one more.

It was only last November that voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing lenders to charge up to 17 percent interest, a ceiling that seemed generous, especially at a time when financial institutions are paying practically no interest to depositors. But 17 was far below what "payday lenders" charged their low-income customers before those lenders were run off. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who helped run them, has rightly declared his opposition to the bills (SB 568 and HB 1572) that Wills is promoting.

Those bills would amend the newly adopted Amendment 89 to remove the 17 percent ceiling on small loans and allow the legislature to set the maximum. Because it would amend a constitutional amendment, the legislation would require a three-fourths vote for approval. Follow-up legislation to set the new maximum would require only a majority vote.

Here is a chance for the newly empowered Republican Party to show its legislative muscle as well as its good intentions. There are enough Republicans in the General Assembly now to block any bill that needs a three-fourths vote. But we won't get our hopes too high. Wills is or was a Democrat, but half the sponsors of the two bills are Republicans.

Like family pretending not to notice that Uncle Charlie is drunk, the other members of the Southeastern Conference have tried to overlook Tennessee's misbehavior. But something must be done, after the Volunteers were caught cheating in football AND basketball simultaneously. Perhaps the Tennesseans should be declared ineligible to compete in the SEC for a few years, while they "get their act together," as the kids say. In the interim, the Sun Belt Conference would probably accept them.

The surname of state Rep. Jim Nickels of North Little Rock was misspelled in a Feb. 23 editorial.


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