MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Republicans are trying again to exempt rent-to-own businesses from the state's consumer protection act.
Rep. Warren Petryk and Sen. Terry Moulton began circulating a bill for co-sponsors Tuesday that would create a new section of statutes specifically for the rent-to-own industry.
Under the new provisions, rental-purchase agreements must disclose in eight- or 10-point type the cash price of the property and the total dollar amount of payments needed to acquire ownership. The consumer protection act currently requires rent-to-own companies to disclose their interest rates. The new statutes wouldn't require companies to divulge their rates, although they would have to disclose the difference between the total cost of payments to acquire ownership and the price of the property.
Moulton and Petryk wrote in a memo seeking co-sponsors that Wisconsin is one of only three states that lack statutes dedicated to the rent-to-own industry. They argue the consumer protection act was written before rent-to-own companies appeared and "does not adequately account for the unique nature of this business."
"Rent-to-own stores serve a distinct consumer population that may not otherwise have access to household items many of us would consider essential today such as a washer and dryer," the lawmakers wrote. "The proposed changes ... will incentivize the creation of more rent-to-own stores in Wisconsin and provide affordable, alternative choices for consumers."
Rent-to-own opponents insist such companies prey on the poor by charging exorbitant interest rates. Nonetheless, Wisconsin Republicans have been trying for years to exempt rent-to-own businesses from the state consumer protection act. In their most recent attempt, Republican Gov. Scott Walker included exemption provisions in the 2013-15 state budget, but the Legislature's finance committee erased them from the spending document amid intense pressure from critics who blasted the industry as immoral.
"This is a sleazy attempt to prioritize a predatory industry over the consumer safety and financial well-being of Wisconsinites," Scot Ross, executive director of liberal group One Wisconsin Now, said of the bill.
The fate of Moulton and Petryk's bill is unclear. Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, said Vos has supported similar legislation in the past but Republicans in his caucus haven't discussed the bill yet.
Dan Romportl, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, didn't reply to an email.