Tuesday, March 21, 2023

TitleMax office on Skidaway Road. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

U.S. senators: TitleMax still ‘predatory’

U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico) and four other members of the powerful Senate Budget Committee have urged the federal government’s consumer watchdog to follow up on alleged abusive practices by TitleMax, the Savannah-based company that offers short-term loans in exchange for a lien on the title of the borrower’s car.

In a letter last week to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that cited recent reporting (here and here) by The Current and ProPublica, Luján said TitleMax, the nation’s largest title lender, continues to use “dubious sales techniques” to lure consumers into costly loan renewals by presenting them with misleading information about the deals’ terms and costs, The Current’s Craig Nelson reports.

Those business practices have persisted, the letter said, even though the federal regulator fined TitleMax’s parent company, TMX Finance LLC, $9 million in 2016 and placed it under a consent decree because of the company’s violations of federal law in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.

“We are deeply concerned that TMX Finance’s predatory behavior concerning title loans continued while under an active consent decree and seek further information on whether this new order will prevent similar predatory behavior going forward,” Luján wrote in the March 16 letter, which was co-signed by Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.)

Jamie Lane, TMX Finance’s vice president of communications and brand experience, didn’t respond to a request on Monday for comment on the senators’ letter.

Georgia Capitol

Another divide?

The Georgia General Assembly’s pell-mell rush to the scheduled end of the legislative session next week has highlighted the near meaninglessness of Crossover Day — the deadline for a bill to pass one chamber of the legislature to be considered for further action. That’s especially true when longtime lawmakers who know how to finesse the ins and outs of the legislative process are involved.

Case in point: Senators Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro) and Ben Watson (R-Savannah). Last week, Hickman made a motion, seconded by Watson, to attach a sports gambling measure to a bill that would designate the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby as the official soap box derby of the state of Georgia. Two sports-betting measures had already failed in the Senate.

As a result of the maneuvering by Hickman, Watson and others, the issue could still reach the governor’s desk.

The move, however, could become yet another point of division among already divided Georgia Republicans – in this case, between the older men who dominate the state party and women seeking to make their mark in the GOP.

At a meeting of Ladies on the Right on Skidaway Island on the day of the vote, Jeanne Seaver, the head of Moms Against Gambling, slammed Watson, Hickman, and Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) calling it “totally unacceptable” that they didn’t inform the sponsor of the soap-box derby measure, Rep. Leesa Hagan (R-Lyons), who has served 20 months in the House, of their plans to dramatically amend her bill. Watson, she added, is “pushing” gambling legislation more than almost anyone else in the state.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who reportedly helped orchestrate the legislative maneuver, reportedly said he wants the state Senate to render a “verdict” on sports gambling.

“We either put it to bed so we don’t have to talk about it anymore, or we’ll get it passed and it will just be like picking up $75 million in the street,” Jones told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, apparently referring to the predicted annual tax revenue from legalizing sports gambling.

Ann Levett, retiring superintendent of Savannah-Chatham County Public School System

Savannah-Chatham schools: Challenges ahead

In her final “state of the schools” address before she retires this summer, superintendent of Savannah-Chatham County public schools, Dr. Ann Levett, last week enumerated the challenges that lay head for her successor.

We must continue to focus on literacy, so we can meet that third-grade reading challenge,” she said, following news reports earlier this month of a survey carried out by school district officials, which showed that one local elementary school had only had 22 percent of third-grade students reading at or above grade level, while another had 79 percent.

“Early learning opportunities” also can’t be emphasized enough, the superintendent said.

“If you didn’t know it, Georgia does not require the children come to school until they are six. If they come to school at six and that’s their first experience [in school], we have missed the fastest growing period for their brains. . . . You don’t believe me? Talk to a first-grade teacher. They can tell you the difference between the children who went to kindergarten and pre-K.”

Then there’s the statewide shortage of bus drivers, with Savannah-Chatham County schools short 170 out of the 350 the district has budgeted for. “Transportation continues to be a challenge,” Levett said.

Levett reminded her audience that what she called “community wellness” — or lack thereof — must be considered in assessing classroom performance:

“By [community wellness] I mean the issues around housing, the issues around food supply. Those basic issues impact how students perform. It impacts whether they come to school. As of today, we have 644 students who have been declared as homeless. That means that we must put our arms around and build a village for those young people and their families.”

Camden County
Welcome sign to Historic St. Marys. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current


  • Don’t forget! A special election will be today in St. Marys to fill the city council seat left open by the death of council member-elect Danny Riggins. Vying for the seat are Chad Ingram, Jay Moreno, and Mike Wilkie. The city’s five polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Trump-DeSantis drama casts a shadow over House GOP retreat in Florida” (NBC News, March 19, 2023) “At the JW Marriott Grande Lakes in Orlando this week, Republicans will be debating their messaging and governing strategy for the next two years, including how their conference will secure spending cuts without risking a debt default and keep the public engaged in countless oversight investigations into the Biden administration and family.” (NBC News, March 9, 2023)
  • Abortion foes seek vows from 2024 GOP hopefuls” (Washington Post, March 19, 2023)Leading antiabortion groups, fresh off their historic victory with the demise of Roe v. Wade, are drawing up plans for a new goal in the 2024 presidential election: Ensuring the Republican nominee promises to back nationwide restrictions on abortion.”
  • Where are the statues of women at the Georgia Capitol?” (Axios Atlanta, March 13, 2023) “Arguably the most prominent statue at the Georgia Capitol is “Miss Freedom” who sits atop the cupola. But she’s not a real woman — rather a 19th-century stock statue. In reality, in a state Capitol adorned with roughly 130 portraits, statues and busts of Georgia historical figures, just 13 are of real women.”
  • House GOP quietly preps take two of its border push” (Politico, March 17, 2023) “House Republicans’ ambitious promises to overhaul border security fizzled as soon as they assumed the majority. They’re preparing for a second attempt anyway. GOP lawmakers have reinitiated their hunt for border and immigration policy changes, hoping to bridge the divide between the conference’s gung-ho conservatives and more cautious centrists.”

US senators demand scrutiny of TitleMax business practices

Letter cites recent reporting by The Current and ProPublica. Senator says TitleMax, the nation’s largest title lender, continues to use “dubious sales techniques” to lure consumers into costly loan renewals by presenting them with misleading information about the deals’ terms and costs.

Brunswick chemical exposure testing underway

A study led by researchers from Emory University examines whether Brunswick-area residents have blood levels of certain contaminants that are higher than those found in the general population of the United States.

New wave of Georgia lawmakers accents state’s shifting demographics

At least 83 non-white members participated in the 2023 legislative session, a quickly evolving change from the General Assembly’s long history as a power center run by white men.

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Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...