Originally created 03/06/03

Lending bill splits parties



ATLANTA - Party ties are straining as lawmakers jockey to pass legislation that corrects problems in last year's predatory-lending law.

During debate in the House on Tuesday, the question of who was in charge became so evident that at one point black Democrats were pleading with Speaker Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, for a 30-minute break to negotiate with the white Democratic leaders.

The bill passed, and now the lobbying spotlight falls on the Senate, which must either accept the House changes in the bill or make changes of its own and ask the House to go along.

The party strain in the Senate has the new Republican governor lobbying against the Republican sponsor of the bill, Sen. Don Cheeks of Augusta.

Ironically, Mr. Cheeks gave Gov. Sonny Perdue a huge boost in power by switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party and helping tilt the Senate into the GOP's control.

Mr. Cheeks wants to preserve the original wording of Senate Bill 53 because it retains more consumer protections. Mr. Perdue, according to Capitol insiders, is urging passage of the House version of the bill because it will resolve the issue the fastest.

Mr. Cheeks said Wednesday that he still thinks he has enough support in the Senate to pass his version.

"It's looking good," Mr. Cheeks said. "But we've got lots of pressure."

He said he thinks Mr. Perdue is pushing for a quick end to the debate.

"The governor is wanting to get this fight over, but I'm not willing to just cave in," Mr. Cheeks said. "The people are too important to me to do that."

Mr. Cheeks said the House version, pushed by the Democratic leadership in that chamber, is too friendly to lobbyists from the banking and mortgage lending industries.

"It's a sad day if we turn over our legislative process totally to the lobbyists," he said.

Some Democrats are saying privately that the governor is motivated by more than $123,000 in contributions banking interests gave for his inaugural party. His transition office released the figures.

Asked if that swayed his position on the bill, Perdue spokeswoman Kimberly King said, "That's speculation. I can't speak to that because I don't know."

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the Senate were tight-lipped about whether they plan to support Mr. Cheeks or the governor - whose staff members appeared to be pulling GOP members from the Senate floor for meetings Wednesday afternoon.

"The governor and I are talking," said Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, who would not elaborate.