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California Court of Appeal upholds return of $331 million to NMS Deposit Fund despite legislative efforts
On April 2, the California Third District Court of Appeal upheld its July 2018 ruling that the state is required to return $331 million to the National Mortgage Settlement Deposit Fund (NMS Deposit Fund), reaching the same conclusion as it did previously notwithstanding newly enacted legislation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, three groups filed a lawsuit in 2014 against California Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s director of finance and controller alleging they unlawfully diverted money from the NMS Deposit Fund to make bond payments and offset general fund expenditures. The groups sought a writ of mandate compelling the state government to pay back approximately $350 million in diverted funds. After the Superior Court denied the writ, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the money still belongs in the NMS Deposit Fund, and not in the state’s General Fund. The state petitioned to the State Supreme Court for review and while the petition was pending, the governor signed SB 861, which states, “It is the intent of the Legislature…to confirm that allocations and uses of funds made by the director of finance from the National Mortgage Special Deposit Fund pursuant to [section 12531] in the 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14 fiscal years were consistent with legislative direction and intent and to abrogate the holding of the Court of Appeal in [this case]. The Legislature further declares that the allocations made by the director of finance pursuant to [section 12531] were made for purposes consistent with the National Mortgage Settlement.” The Supreme Court directed the Court of Appeal to vacate the July 2018 opinion and reconsider in light of SB 861.
The Court of Appeal, having considered the views of the legislature in SB 861, confirmed its original conclusion from July 2018. Specifically, the court stated that the defendants’ reading of SB 861, “would effectively defeat the purpose of creating a special deposit fund to house the money” and would disregard the former Attorney General’s instructions for use of the settlement money, which was part of the National Mortgage Settlement. The Court of Appeal noted that in SB 861, the legislature declared that “the allocations…were made consistent with the National Mortgage Settlement,” but emphasized that “such a ‘belief is not binding on a court. . . .’” and the interpretation is “an exercise of the judicial power the Constitution assigns to the courts.” Therefore, upon second review, the Court of Appeal again held that the trial court erred when it did not issue a writ of mandate ordering the diverted funds to be returned to the NMS Deposit Fund.
On April 2, 10 out of the 11 Maryland Senate Finance Committee members voted in favor of a motion to consider SB 786 as “unfavorable.” The bill would have extended the effectiveness of the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission (MFCPC) through June 30, 2021; however, because the bill cannot be revisited this session, the MFCPC will end June 30, 2019. Other provisions of the bill would have, among other things, addressed (i) mobile home retailer requirements; (ii) certain notice requirements for consumer borrowers; (iii) personal information protections and security breach notifications; (iv) vehicle sales and lending requirements; and (v) currency exchange licensing and regulatory requirements.
On April 1, the North Carolina governor signed SB 162, which amends the allowed loan origination fee and late payment charges for certain loans. Under these amendments, the maximum origination fee covered banks are permitted to charge for a loan or credit extension not secured by real property with a principal amount of $100,000 or greater is one quarter of one percent of the principal. For loans with principal amounts of less than $100,000, the maximum origination fee varies between $100 to $250, depending on the loan amount. SB 162 also caps the annual percentage rate at 36 percent for loans or extensions of credit with principal amounts of less than $5,000, where the borrower is a natural person and the debt is primarily incurred for personal, family, or household purposes. Among other provisions, SB 162 also limits allowable late payment charges that vary depending on loan type and loan amount and also states that a late payment charge may not exceed the “amount disclosed with particularity to the borrower pursuant to [TILA],” if applicable. The amendments took effect immediately and apply to contracts entered into, renewed, or modified on or after April 1.
On March 26, the Utah governor signed SB 213, which, among other things, defines and clarifies blockchain technology-related terms and exempts from the state’s Money Transmitter Act certain persons who facilitate the “creation, exchange, or sale of certain blockchain technology-related products.” Specifically, the amendments state that blockchain tokens are not money transmissions. The amendments take effect 60 days after adjournment of the legislature.
On April 1, the Arizona governor signed HB 2177, which modifies the state’s Regulatory Sandbox Program (RSP). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in March 2018, Arizona became the first state to create a regulatory sandbox for companies to test innovative financial products or services without certain regulatory requirements. The bill clarifies the RSP to allow participants to temporarily test an innovation “with respect to providing a financial product or service or a substantial component of a financial product or service,” as opposed to, an “innovative financial product or service.” Among other things, the bill also (i) removes the Arizona consumer residency requirement when participants test innovative money transmitter products, requiring only that the consumer have physical presence in the state at the time of the transaction; (ii) removes record keeping requirements for participants testing investment management products; and (iii) provides sole enforcement authority of state regulatory laws applicable to RSP participants to the state Attorney General. The bill is effective 91 days after the state’s legislative session ends.
On March 25, the West Virginia governor signed SB 603, which adds exemptions from the currency exchange licensing requirements. Among other things, the bill exempts from the state’s currency exchange licensing requirements a person or persons operating a payment system that provides processing, clearing, or settlement services in connection with wire transfers, debit/credit card transactions, ACH transfers, or similar fund transfers. Additionally, the bill also exempts from licensing requirements a person or persons that facilitate payment for goods or services (not including currency or money transmission) pursuant to a contract and the payment obligation is satisfied or extinguished. The bill is effective June 7.
On March 26, the Kentucky governor signed HB 285, which amends licensing procedures and requirements for consumer loan companies. Specifically, HB 285, among other things:(i) increases application fees; (ii) establishes financial requirements for applicants and licensees; (iii) amends the process for approving applications and appealing denials; (iv) restricts licensing eligibility for individuals who previously had a license denied or revoked; and (v) authorizes use of the State Regulatory Registry by the state’s Department of Financial Institutions. HB 285 also establishes when the state commissioner may take adverse action and permits the commissioner to seek temporary or permanent relief against persons in violation of the law. The amendments take effect 90 days after the official end of the session.
On March 26, the West Virginia governor signed HB 2538, which establishes a legal banking framework in West Virginia for handling medical marijuana-related funds. Medical marijuana was legalized in 2017 and distribution was authorized to begin July 1. Among other things, HB 2358 permits the state’s treasurer to “competitively bid” one or more financial institutions—including credit unions and non-bank entities—to provide banking services for fees, penalties, and taxes collected under the West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act (the Act). The Act also does not prohibit or otherwise impair a financial institution from providing services to a person or entity involved in a medical cannabis-related business functioning under the Act “solely because the person or entity is a grower, processor, dispensary, owner of any proportion, operator, employee, patient, caregiver, family or household member, financial broker, or other similar person or entity” except that the Commissioner of Financial Institutions has authority to enforce applicable laws and regulations related to ensuring the safety and soundness of a financial institution. HB 2538 serves to provide a solution to banking problems West Virginia has encountered in connection with the Act. HB 2538 takes effect 90 days after passage.
On March 25, the Utah governor signed HB 378, which creates a state regulatory sandbox program through the state’s Department of Commerce (Department) that allows participants to temporarily test innovative financial products or services on a restricted basis without requiring a license or authorization to act under Utah law. Under the program, approved applicants will have 24 months from the date an application is approved to test the product or service on Utah residents without being subject to state laws and regulations that normally would regulate such products or services, unless the Department determines otherwise. Additionally, the Department, upon written notice, may end a participant’s participation program at any time and for any reason. The program allows for participants to request an extension of time up to six months after the end of the regulatory sandbox testing period in order to obtain a license or other authorization required by the law to continue to market the product or service. The act takes effect on May 13.
On March 26, the West Virginia governor signed HB 3143, which amends the requirements for regulated consumer lending in the state to provide that a person making or taking assignment of consumer loans, or “undertaking direct collection of payments,” must first be licensed by the state’s Commissioner of Banking. Among other things, the act also adjusts the threshold amounts “for which certain finance charges can be imposed” on consumer loans, including revolving loan accounts. For instance, (i) on loans less than $3,500 that are not secured by real property, the finance charge “may not exceed 31 percent per year on the unpaid balance of the principal amount”; and (ii) on loans between $3,500 and $15,000, the finance charge “may not exceed 27 percent per year on the unpaid balance of the principal amount.” The act also provides restrictions relating to when finance charges may be imposed again, and states that, in certain cases, the “financing of  charges is permissible and does not constitute charging interest on interest.” The act further clarifies that the new licensing provisions exclude “any collection agencies as defined and licensed by the West Virginia Collection Agency Act of 1973.” HB 3143 is effective June 7.
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