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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A debate over regulating payday lending businesses has turned into a fight over race and conflicts of interest.
Salt Lake City Republican Sen. James Evans has been criticized for reportedly lobbying against a bill that would tighten regulations on payday loan centers. Evans owns a payday lending business in West Valley City.
"I think he should focus on being a state senator instead of a lobbyist," said Rep. Ty McCartney, D-Salt Lake City, who is sponsoring the bill.
Evans said he has conflicts of interest like every other member of the citizen legislature, but he also has an expertise in the business and should be allowed to share his opinion.
"I do believe I have a right to review all bills and offer an opinion," said Evans, one of the two black lawmakers in the Utah Legislature. "They are trying to censor my comments and actions because of my race and being a Republican. I don't find them doing this to other legislators of other races."
"I'm being unfairly singled out, but for me that's typical. And perhaps we should be looking into why that's the case," he said.
McCartney said there's only one reason.
"He may feel singled out because he's the only person opposing this bill," he said. Evans repeatedly attempted to gut the measure, both before it went to a public hearing and then on the floor of the Utah House, McCartney said.
House Bill 166 would prohibit lenders from threatening debtors with criminal prosecution or deportation, and borrowers would be allowed to repay the loans within 24 hours without penalty.
It also would permit debtors make partial payments. McCartney said some payday lenders refuse partial payments. Lenders then roll over charges -- which average 500 percent interest -- on the full amount of the loan.
Payday lenders would have to be audited every year.
Evans said he has questions about McCartney's bill, but fully supports legislation sponsored by Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley City.
However, Mayne said his bill is identical to McCartney's except that it sets a minimum payment someone could make on their loan at $5.
"I'm letting the rookies play it out," Mayne said of the fight between the two lawmakers.
Mayne has been a member of the Utah Legislature for eight years, while Evans is beginning his first session and McCartney is starting his third year on the hill.
"I'm just trying to make peace among them," Mayne said.
On Wednesday, McCartney's bill suffered little from the negative lobbying -- as it was approved unanimously in the Utah House and will now move to the Senate for consideration.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)