Legislators take charge with ATM bill

by Jesse Weisbeck

With one watered-down bill ready to be voted on by the House, the state Senate Commerce Committee is gearing up to hear arguments on stricter legislation banning all automated teller machine surcharges.
Local consumer advocates and state senators met Tuesday in preparation for their battle against the surcharges.
The group included Minnesota Public Interest Research Group consumer and economic rights activist Lea Schuster, as well as many legislators such as Sen. John Hottinger, DFL-Mankato, and Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, who are currently supporting legislation banning surcharges.
Schuster said legislation against these surcharges, which are defined as “a transaction fee assessed by the owner or operator of an electronic financial terminal,” would be very beneficial to University students.
Because many students are on fixed and low incomes, and others bank from hometown accounts, students have been one of the groups hardest hit by ATM surcharges, Schuster said.
The Senate bill, which is authored by Hottinger, proposes an all-out ban on any surcharges, regardless of the machine’s owner or location.
“This issue is heating up at the Capitol and gaining momentum,” said Pappas. “It’s important that we keep good policy in mind here.”
The Senate bill is paralleled by an exemption-laden and altogether weaker bill that passed through the house committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance last week.
Bills in both houses have naturally met heavy opposition from the banking community. Banking lawyers and lobbyists have questioned the legality of such bills.
“There is a certain constitutional issue raised if this bill is passed,” said John French, a TCF lawyer who spoke to the house committee.
In order to pass the bill, committee chairman and state Rep. Irv Anderson, DFL-International Falls, was forced make major alterations.
“We still support (Anderson’s) bill, but the language is much too weak,” Schuster said. “By creating so many exemptions, we think it won’t have as positive of an effect.”
Because of heavy opposition, the bill was changed drastically. With exemptions galore, only banks with more than four machines cannot charge the ATM fees. The bill also exempted retailers, such as bars and gas stations.
As a result of the watered-down bill, Schuster said attention is now being shifted to the Senate, where the stronger bill is being proposed next week Tuesday or Thursday.