Clear relief

ICBA makes Capitol push for comprehensive regulatory relief package.

By Paul G. Merski

With members of Congress back in Washington debating financial regulatory reform, ICBA is calling on community bankers to keep lawmakers’ feet to the fire by urging support for comprehensive regulatory relief legislation.

The Community Lending Enhancement and Regulatory (CLEAR) Relief Act has been introduced in the House and Senate to help relieve community banks of many crushing regulatory burdens that hinder access to credit, allowing community banks flexibility to meet borrower needs and freeing up resources they can use to make loans and create jobs.

Community bankers can call on their senators and representatives to cosponsor and advance this aggressive, pro-growth legislation with a custom message on ICBA’s Be Heard grassroots website ( Following the summer recess, now is the time to reach out and remind lawmakers what should be top of mind in the financial services world.

The Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee last held hearings about regulatory relief early this summer, before the August recess.

In June, Scott Heitkamp, ICBA chairman and ValueBank Texas president and CEO, testified before the Senate Banking Committee. In July, Robert Fisher, president and CEO of Tioga State Bank in Spencer, N.Y., spoke to the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. Both of these esteemed community bankers advocated key provisions of ICBA’s pro-growth Plan for Prosperity regulatory relief platform, which seeks to expand credit availability and mitigate rapid consolidation in the banking industry.

The bills
Inspired by ICBA’s Plan for Prosperity platform, the CLEAR Relief Act promotes regulations tiered to the size and complexity of regulated institutions to help community banks serve their customers.

The wider-ranging House bill was introduced by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. It includes numerous pro-community bank provisions to:

  • exempt community bank portfolio loans from a variety of new mortgage rules, including Qualified Mortgage, escrow and appraisal regulations;
  • support additional capital opportunities for small-bank and thrift holding companies by raising the Small Bank Holding Company Policy Statement asset threshold from $1 billion to $10 billion;
  • reform capital requirements for mortgage-servicing assets of non-systemic banking institutions;
  • significantly expand community bank exemptions from overzealous Home Mortgage Disclosure Act reporting;
  • eliminate unnecessary mandates on small-business data collection;
  • amend Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act policies to bar “disparate impact” claims and require discriminatory intent;
  • better classify reciprocal deposits to improve consumer access to banking services;
  • restrict regulators from ordering deposit accounts to be closed without a material reason to curtail the abuses of Operation Choke Point;
  • limit Consumer Financial Protection Bureau supervision and enforcement to institutions with more than $50 billion in assets.

ICBA also strongly supports the Senate version introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). The Senate companion is more targeted in order to achieve bipartisan support in that chamber, with provisions focused on relief from qualified mortgage rules, the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule, the Volcker rule and Sarbanes-Oxley requirements.

Moran signed and introduced the bill alongside a group of Kansas community bankers in Washington for the 2017 ICBA Capital Summit, who accompanied the senator when he dropped the legislation at the bill clerk’s desk for formal introduction. Senate Banking Committee members Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) are the original cosponsors on the bill.

More work to be done
While we continue to build support for these much-needed regulatory relief provisions, we still have a long way to go. The CLEAR Relief Act still needs to advance through committee and get approval by both chambers of Congress before they can make it to the president’s desk.

We’ve made important progress, but we cannot allow ourselves to rest on our laurels. To get this legislation through the legislative process, community bankers nationwide must renew their commitment to advocacy. Grassroots outreach to Congress is as fundamental to our industry’s daily operations as taking deposits and making loans. That is why community bankers from the corner office to the front line should be familiar with these legislative priorities and ready to work with their members of Congress to see them through.

Meeting of minds

A capital effort—(l-r) Wisconsin Banker’s Association president Rose Oswald Poels; Capitol Bank CFO Gene Bembenek and CEO Ken Thompson; Rep. Mark Pocan; Capitol Bank VP retail/chief compliance officer Gary Kuter.

On August 7, employees from Capitol Bank in Madison, Wis., met with U.S. Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) to discuss regulatory relief, tax reform, revised mortgage lending laws and the CFPB’s arbitration rule.

If your community bank is interested in hosting a legislator, visit to learn how ICBA can help.

Paul G. Merski ( is ICBA group executive vice president of congressional relations and strategy.