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Teeth Pulled From Bank Anti-discrimination Bill

Teeth Pulled From Bank Anti-discrimination Bill image Teeth Pulled From Bank Anti-discrimination Bill image
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When you don't have cash and you can't get credit, you won't have equal opportunity for education, medical care, transportation, rent, or other essentials dependent on dollars. For the first time a bilí is before the state legislature to help equalize economie opportunity. Already passed by the House of Representatives, the bil! would guarantee full and equal opportunity for credit and loans to all persons without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religión, national origin, marital status, sex, or blindness. The bill was conceived as an amendment to the Michigan penal code to carry both criminal and civil penalties for violators-banks, department stores, gas industries, etc.--which would dislike the nasty public image of having executives jailed or paying fine or being sued for discriminatory practices in credit and loans. By the time the bill was put through the Senate Committee on Corporations and Economie Development, corporation lobbyists had moved in and the bill emerged on the Senate floor without any practical means of enfor cement. The bill no ionger carried any criminal penalty and retained only the negligible civil penalty of '-actual darnages". The House bill had provided misdemeanor fines of not more than $500 or imprisonment of not more than 90 days or both as criminal penalty. The violator could be held hable to the injured party for $200 damages or triple damages, whichever is more, in civil action. "How do you determine 'actual damages'? What money does it cost to have a door slammed in your face?" said Allyn Ravitz, Deiroit attorney and advocate of the original House bill. "And what about the lost opportunity to buy a car, so you lose a job that would require a car?" Kathy Fojtik, vice president of the Aan Arbor NOW chapter and a Washtenaw County commissioner, said a picket line is planned to demand support for the original House bill at Huron Valley National Bank, at the corner of Washington and S. Fifth, from noon to 1 p.m., Friday, June 14. She said the Michigan Bankers tion, of which the Hurón Vafley National Bank is a member, is the chief opposition to the penalty clauses in the original House bilí. A strike by members of NOW at the Ann Arbor Federal savings Friday. June 7, resulted in the management's promise to send notice to Sen. Bursley supporting the House bill. Fojti# stressed the necessity of a law with enforcement measures "instead of a free-floating piece of legislation in nowhereland." If passed in its Senate committee-amended, penalty less versión, Bursley said, "There is a question of it being germane to the penal code section." He said that in that event, the bill would still be Michigan law and -voüld stand on its own feet. Instead of being part of the penal code, it would "focus attention" on itself. Both Ravitz and Fojtik said the House bill had been introduced essentially as a provisión of criminal and civil penajty and that this would be the only effective way it could be made irtto law. Fojtik said that even if only the misdemeanor imprisonment of not more than 90 days were dropped, or the misdemeanor fine of not more than $500 was retained, along with the full civil penalty of the House bill, the bill could still yield enough forcé against discriminat,ory practices. Ravitz cailed attention to the third line of the Senate committee substitution: 'The collection of data on marital and family status past and present shall not be prima facie evidence that this act is being violated." ■'If they (agencies extending credit or loans) can look at irrelevant information of status, they wül in fact use it--and it does prejudíce a iot of people," she said. THE FEMINIST FEDERAL CREDIT UNION Ravitz asserts that civil penalties of a minimum of $200 or triple damages, whichever would amount to more, would have to be established to provide any practical motivation for a person to take a díscrimination case to court to enforce an ant i-discrimina tion law. Only substantial awards will make class action suits a forceful initiütive for persons discriminated against, she said. ""Without penalties, the bilí has no guts, no teeth at all. It's giving a right without a remedy," Ravitz said. "Most people who suffer from this discrimination will have no remedy." She pointed out that criminal and civil penalties exist to dissuade and penalize other forms of economie violations. "What's more important : stealing a 1 O-cent pack of gum or robbing ' one of educa tional opportunity?' she said. . Ravitz said that because the bill was originally introduced as an amendment with its vehicle the penal code, it could be subject to constitutional attack if it is passed without penal provisión. State Sen. Gilbert Bursley (R-Ann Arbor) agreed that the bill lack enforcement power and said he would try to reinstate the original S200 minimum or triple damages liability of the House bill. "We took out the criminal penalty clause," Bursley. vice-chairman of the ('ommittee on the Corporations and Economie Deveiopment, said. "Because there wasn't a prayer of passing it with the bankers against it." He said he personally doesn't think that the criminal penalty is necessary and could not conceive of judges throwing bankers into jail. "This discrimination is not an easy thing to convict," he said. "like pot laws, there will be no convictions if it's too strict." People at the Ann Arbor branch of the Feminist Federal Credit Union have also been watching the credit and loan antidiscrimination bill of the Michigan legislature carefully because as Joanne Parrent, a founding member, said : "Women shouldn't have to rely on feminist groups totaliy; they should be able to get credit any place." "Credit is a necessary evil in our world," Klaetke said. "Some people regard money as a dirty thing and those who handle it as dirty people. But women have to have continued on page 27 Banks continued trom page 9 the power of controlling their financial resources as well as the rest of their lives." Located at 225 Liberty Street in Ann Arbor, the FFCU branch is open Monday and Wednesday noon to 5 p.m. and trom 6 to 8 p.m. The FFCU was chartered by the National Credit Union Administration August 26, 1973, as an exception to its chartering policy. "Ours was a different field of membership-based on an attitude of amorphous structure that hadn't been dealt with before." Valerie Klaetke, one of the founders. said. "Members of the credit union are members of feminist groups; NOW or the National Black Feminist Organization or others." A minority of men and a majority of women constitute the present membership of almost 1.200 with more than S200. 000 in shares and 321 lbans out totalling more than $185.000 in money loaned. The FFCU is a federally chartered nonprofit savings and loan cooperative. Since the FFCU became so successful giving women the opportunity of borrowing and saving in a cooperative, equal riglits organization, other feminist credit unions are being planned in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and California with the help of the group in Michigan. "Credit unióos emphasize the cooperative tliing and help each other out." Parrent, said. At the last meeting of the Michigan Credit Unión League members of the FFCU were able to créate a Women's Advisory Board to promote interest and involvement in the credit union movement among women. Tlie credit union cannot under law issue checking accounts but money orders are avüilable. Deposits are insured up to $20,000 by the National Credit Union Administration and members receive 5 per cent dividends, with no minimum balance or time requirement. Parrent said that banks didn't used to give individuals loans. With the development of expensive commodities like cars and washing machines, credit unions were formed, she said. ■Commercial banks are more and more seeing credit unions as competition and are tiying to get a bigger percentage of consumer business,"' she said. "Banks often require yon to borrow a minimum of $200 or so. With expensive and troublesome paper work, smaller loans don't gain enough interest and aren't profitable for theni"