Meeting in a rare Saturday session, the Florida Senate approved revamping regulations for payday loans and supported expanding workers’ compensation insurance benefits for police and firefighters who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Senators voted 31-5 to pass a measure (SB 920) that would allow payday lenders to make larger loans for longer periods of time. The industry-backed proposal also has sailed through House committees, though it has drawn opposition from some consumer advocates.
The bill would allow the businesses to make “installment” loans up to $1,000, with repayment over 60 to 90 days. Current law limits the high-interest loans to $500 for periods of seven to 31 days.
Supporters say the proposal was prompted by potential changes in federal regulations that could affect the types of smaller-dollar, shorter-term loans made by payday lenders in Florida. Also, supporters contend that payday loans play a key role for many low-income people who don’t have access to other types of credit.
During brief comments on the Senate floor Saturday, sponsor Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, alluded to those issues, saying the bill would ensure the “short-term credit market” would survive amid the potential federal changes.
But some consumer and religious groups have fought the proposal, arguing that payday loans can put borrowers in a “debt trap.”
“We have seen members of our congregations and those in the communities around them fall victim to the debt trap that this type of loan supported by this bill creates,” Rachel Gunter Shapard, of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, said in a statement this week.
The bill was opposed Saturday by Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami; Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah; Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami; and Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami. The issue now goes to the House, with the 60-day legislative session scheduled to end Friday.
Senators met Saturday primarily to take up a school-safety package stemming from the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. The Senate on Saturday morning began what was expected to be hours of discussion about the package.
Along with the payday-loan legislation, senators also voted on several other bills. Among them was a measure (SB 376) that would expand workers’ compensation benefits for first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, was approved 33-0. The House on Friday also took up its version (HB 227) and is poised to give approval.
Under state workers’ compensation laws, injured workers generally cannot receive benefits for mental or nervous injuries unless accompanied by physical injuries, according to a Senate staff analysis.
First responders, however, may receive benefits for medical treatment of mental or nervous injuries without accompanying physical injuries. But they may not receive benefits for lost wages in such situations.
The bill would allow law-enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics to receive benefits for lost wages under certain circumstances if they suffer from PTSD.
State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, whose role includes serving as state fire marshal, issued a statement Saturday noting testimony about first responders who have suffered from PTSD.
“Today, we approach the finish line and are one step closer to ensuring first responders get access to the mental health benefits they deserve,” Patronis said.