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O'Malley's initiative on foreclosure issue is found lacking

Consumer-rights advocates and some legislators said yesterday that Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposals for addressing the mounting foreclosure crisis don't do enough to help homeowners now, but industry lobbyists argued in a Senate hearing that parts of the bills are onerous and need to be tweaked.

O'Malley's administration has introduced a series of bills that would lengthen the time before a foreclosure can take place, create a new criminal statute on mortgage fraud and ban the conveyance of property in so-called foreclosure rescue schemes.

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Many of the proposals emerged from a task force that the Democratic governor formed last summer and enjoy broad support.

But lobbyists are seeking to revise some aspects of the bills, and lawmakers have introduced bills of their own.

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Muse bill

State Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat, has drafted legislation to impose a short-term moratorium on foreclosures on homes with subprime mortgages in the state, echoing a national proposal made by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Muse, whose district has been one of the hardest hit by foreclosures, said he wanted immediate action.

Most of the administration proposals wouldn't go into effect until later this year.

Muse and other members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee were handed a spreadsheet showing the increasing number of foreclosures in their districts.

"Until we find out where the problems are, we don't want innocent people losing their homes," Muse said. "This is an emergency."

The Senate panel heard from lenders, real estate agents, lawyers and housing counselors yesterday; more than 50 people filled the committee room. While most praised the legislation, they also had a number of suggestions for changes to the proposals, which General Assembly leaders have made a top priority for this session.

Newspaper representatives objected to a provision that would reduce the number of public notices of foreclosure sales that must be published from three to one. Administration officials said the change was a compromise intended to reduce costs.

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Publisher's view

Christopher A. Eddings, publisher of The Daily Record, argued that reducing the number of required ads would "shield the scope of the problem from public view."

He said an ad in his paper would cost up to $350 but declined to say how much his company stood to lose.

The Maryland Association of Realtors said another provision was onerous because it could subject notaries public to criminal prosecution when their only role in the process was to verify the identity of the person signing mortgage documents.

A warning

The group also warned that increasing liabilities for foreclosure consultants could drive legitimate real estate professionals from working with distressed properties.

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Steve Silverman, chief of the consumer protection division at the attorney general's office, acknowledged that the proposed legislation is not going to stop foreclosures in the state but rather make the process more fair and weed out future fraud.

"There is a foreclosure tsunami coming," he said. "At the end of the day, if you can't make your payments, you will probably end up in foreclosure."

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com


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