On September 25, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement announcing that he will resign both his Speakership and congressional seat on October 30. No announcement has been made addressing who will replace Boehner as Speaker of the House.
U.S. House Financial Services Committee Pass Several Financial Regulatory Bills Seeking Regulatory Relief and Stronger Consumer Protection
On September 30, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee approved five pieces of legislation aimed at strengthening consumer protection, providing regulatory relief to publicly traded companies, and seeking expanded oversight of the CFPB. Approved in an overwhelming 56-3 vote, H.R. 957, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection-Inspector General Reform Act of 2015, creates an independent Inspector General for the CFPB to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The committee also passed H.R. 2769 in a 50-9 vote. The Risk-Based Capital Study Act of 2015 mandates the National Credit Union Administration to conduct a study of appropriate capital requirements for federal and state credit unions prior to new rules becoming effective.
NAAG Urging Congress to Refrain From Passing Federal Data Breach Legislation Preempting State Authority
On July 7, as Congress considers proposed legislation on data breach notification and security, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) sent a letter to leaders of both houses of Congress urging them to refrain from passing federal data breach and identity theft laws that would preempt states’ authority to enforce their own legislation, or pass legislation that exceeds federal standards. The 47 state attorneys general argued that “preempting state law would make consumers less protected than they are right now” because (i) states are closer to people affected consumers and can better respond to their concerns; (ii) states are “better equipped to quickly adjust to the challenges presented by a data-driven economy”; (iii) although helpful for a national data breach, a single federal agency would be unable to “respond effectively” to the large number of smaller data breaches that “have a large impact in a particular state or region”; and (iv) “with the increasing speed rate of technological developments,” states need the ability to surpass minimal and continually obsolete federal requirements. Accordingly, the state attorneys general asserted it was “crucial” that they “maintain their enforcement authority under their states’ laws, and that any legislation be tailored to ensure complementary enforcement authority.”
On June 17, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that would require the CFPB to conduct a peer-reviewed cost-benefit analysis of the use of arbitration agreements prior to issuing a final rule. The amendment is tied to a fiscal year 2016 financial services spending bill, which would bring the Bureau under the congressional appropriations process. U.S. House Representatives Steve Womack (R-AR) and Tom Graves (R-GA) brought forth the amendment, which was adopted by the Committee on a voice vote.
On June 9, the FTC announced that it has provided to the CFPB its 2014 Annual Financial Acts Enforcement Report. The report highlights the FTC’s enforcement, research, rulemaking, and policy development activities with respect to the Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z), the Consumer Leasing Act (Regulation M), and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (Regulation E). Areas detailed within the report include enforcement actions related to non-mortgage credit, including auto finance and payday lending, mortgage loan advertising, and forensic audit scams; and consumer and business outreach related to truth in lending requirements. The report, submitted on May 29, will be used to prepare the CFPB’s Annual Report to Congress. The FTC also submitted a copy of the report to the Federal Reserve Board.
On June 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to H.R. 2578, the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Act. The amendment, passed in a 232-196 vote, would prohibit the DOJ from using funds to prosecute and obtain legal settlements from lenders, landlords, and insurers in discrimination suits based on the disparate impact legal theory. This legislative development comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this summer in Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities Project, which challenges the disparate impact theory in mortgage lending under the Fair Housing Act
On May 4, Indiana Governor Michael Pence signed H.B. 1456 into law, amending the state’s civil relief act to include protections for servicemembers under the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The legislation also requires the Indiana National Guard provide both active and reserve members a list that details the rights a servicemember or a dependent of a servicemember are entitled to under the state and federal SCRA. The law will take effect on July 1, 2015.
On March 4, U.S. House Representative Randy Neugebauer introduced H.R. 1266, a bill to reform the CFPB’s leadership structure to replace its single director with a five-member commission appointed by the President. Representative Neugebauer serves at the Chairman of the Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee.
On February 12, Congressmen Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Tim Walz (D-MN) re-introduced the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection-Inspector General Act of 2015, legislation that would create an independent IG position at the CFPB. The IG position would be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Currently, the CFPB and the Federal Reserve share an IG. The proposed legislation is intended to increase congressional oversight over the CFPB, which has been given “broad authority” to fulfill its mission to protect consumers.
On February 12, seven industry trade associations co-authored a letter to Congress regarding anticipated data breach legislation. The letter urges Congress to protect its constituents from the impact of identity theft and financial fraud resulting from data breaches by (i) considering a national data security and breach standard; (ii) recognizing the existing fraud protection standards (e.g., HIPAA and GLBA) and having them serve as a model for sectors where there are none; and (iii) encouraging shared responsibility between entities, including costs. The letter is the latest effort among the industry to lobby Congress in passing legislation to combat increasing data breaches and fraud.
On December 18, after passing unanimously in both houses of Congress, President Obama signed into law S.3008, the Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act of 2014. Previously, the SCRA’s protection for servicemembers against foreclosure for one year after the end of active duty was set to expire at the end of 2014. The Act extends this protection until the end of 2015, at which point the foreclosure protection is scheduled to revert to the period of active duty plus 90 days that was in effect in 2008.
On December 18, President Obama signed into law H.R. 5859, the “Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014.” First introduced in the House on December 11, the bill gives the President the authority to impose sanctions against countries, entities, and individual persons that pose potential threats to financial stability through excessive risk-taking with the Russian market. The bill provides authority for sanctions against foreign persons, including executive officers of an entity, relating to (i) banking transactions; (ii) investing in or purchasing equity or debt instruments; (iii) U.S. property transactions; and (iv) Export-Import Bank of the United States assistance. Finally, the bill directs the President to “use U.S. influence to encourage the World Bank Group, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and other international financial institutions to invest in and stimulate private investment in such projects.”
On December 11, Representatives Cummings (D-MD), Waters (D-CA), and Moore (D-WI) led the effort to submit a letter to FHFA’s IG requesting that the agency conduct a comprehensive audit to determine if Fannie and Freddie “are taking adequate steps to ensure that preservation companies maintain or service REO properties in compliance with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.” The letter, which was signed by a total of 26 House Members, suggested that companies contracted by Fannie and Freddie to maintain their REOs provide inferior service within African-American, Latino, and other non-Caucasian communities. The Representatives’ allegations stem from National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) research, in addition to complaints filed with HUD and several U.S. banks. Moreover, the letter comes directly after the December 9 Senate Banking Committee hearing, “Inequality, Opportunity, and the Housing Market,” during which Deborah Goldberg, Special Project Director of NFHA, addressed that REOs are managed differently based on the community of the property.
Senator Warren And Congressman Cummings Urge GAO To Study Economic Vulnerability Of Non-Bank Mortgage Servicers, Risks To Consumers
On October 20, Senator Warren and Congressman Cummings co-authored a letter to the GAO requesting that the agency investigate possible effects on the non-bank servicing industry in the event of an economic downturn. In addition, the duo urged the GAO to study the potential risks to consumers should a major non-bank servicer fail. The letter stems from a report recently issued by the FHFA-OIG. The report cites that the rise in non-bank mortgage servicers “has been accompanied by consumer complaints, lawsuits, and other regulatory actions as the servicers’ workload outstrips their processing capacity.”
On October 7, Elijah Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a letter asking committee Chairman Darrell Issa to hold a bipartisan hearing to examine a recent data security breach at a major U.S. financial institution. The breach is believed to have affected approximately 76 million households, in addition to 7 million small businesses. In his letter, Cummings told Issa that he believes an investigation into the breach “will help the Committee learn from [corporations] about security vulnerabilities they have experienced in order to better protect our federal information technology assets.” This is not the first time Cummings has asked Chairman Issa to hold hearings on the issue of data security. Cummings previously called for hearings on the issue in January and September of this year. To date, Chairman Issa has not responded to Cummings’s requests.