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UNM law prof speaks against payday loans

A UNM law professor is throwing her considerable professional weight behind a call for voters to kick legislators out of office if they don’t vote to cap interest rates on so-called payday loans.

At issue are three bills now pending before the New Mexico Legislature that would limit interest rates on loans to no higher than 36 percent a year. At present, it is not unusual for storefront lenders to charge more than 400 percent annually, and those who take out the loans almost always are those that can least afford them: the poor.

MARTIN: Says most residents want a cap

MARTIN: Says most residents want a cap

In a letter to the Journal, Nathalie Martin of the University of New Mexico School of Law says, “everybody favors the cap, except the legislators who have lined their pockets with industry funds.”

She is referring to surveys that show 85 percent of New Mexicans – including more than 260 religious leaders – support capping interest rates. Eighteen states and the U.S. military have capped interest at 36 percent or lower. And a dozen municipalities – including Albuquerque and Bernalillo County – have adopted supporting resolutions.

In her letter, Martin cites her position as the “Frederick M. Hart Chair in Consumer and Clinical Law” at UNM to urge support for limiting interest rates and to go after lawmakers who don’t go along with the program.

“The disregard for what the New Mexico public wants is getting more and more flagrant,” Martin wrote. “Thankfully, we have a powerful remedy. Kick them out of office.”

Citing the undue influence of lobbyists over lawmakers, she writes that the legislators “were elected to represent us, not the lobbyists. Keep watching, New Mexicans,” she advises.

“We won’t forget this, and we the people will get the last word,” she said.

In an interview, Martin said she was referring, in part, to an article in the Sunday Journal on a poll of New Mexico business leaders that found “a widely held perception” that political contributions all too often buy special access to state lawmakers. The business leaders were also critical of lobbyists.

Martin, an expert on consumer law and bankruptcy, most recently has focused her research on payday, title and installment loans. Her work includes several studies funded by the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges.

Her work has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court and the New Mexico Supreme Court. A year ago, she testified before a U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs subcommittee during a hearing titled “Are Alternative Financial Products Serving Consumers?”

UNM says there is nothing unusual about Martin’s use of her title on the letter.

Provost Chaouki Abdallah noted that people often introduce themselves by their profession or title. And, he said, Martin has worked long and hard in the profession and earned every one of the titles she holds.

“In my view, she can write whatever she wants in her capacity as a citizen, and it’s perfectly OK is she introduces herself by her title,” he said.

Law School Dean David Herring suggested she add a sentence stating that the opinions expressed are hers alone and not necessarily those of UNM. She complied.