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Editor’s note on Ohio legislation: Take action or live with it

While the Ohio staff did an admirable job attempting to provide background on the campus card industry, they were certainly hampered by a lack of historical context of the campus card market. Ohio State’s BuckID program is one of the nation’s most advanced, long established, and well-supported debit card programs. Using their numbers as the benchmark, only a handful of programs across the country could shine. True OSU covers 80% of the costs associated with operating the debit card system with the merchant fee revenues–but after nine years and a wildly successful effort.

I spoke with Representative Webster about the bill in an attempt to understand his intentions. When asked how the legislation would impact some of the smaller or less mature campus programs, he replied “It doesn’t require them to do anything–but it if they are currently enabling merchants on the campus they will need to accept those off campus.” Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Surely he must see that a different level of work is required to equip and support the bookstore or dining hall across the Union than would be to deal with numerous dispersed merchants throughout a community.

One problem I have with the legislation as proposed is that it seems to have no limits. If a merchant in another state wanted to accept an Ohio institution’s campus card, the campus would be required to provide the capability. Likewise, it would seem, for Internet merchants and telemarketers. Normally this would be controlled via fees–making setup and maintenance fees prohibitive. But the bill’s intent is clear that both on and off campus merchants are to be treated equally. I can’t argue that this is an appealing concept but I fear for the campuses that have to live with the consequences.

Ohio’s colleges and universities will have only themselves to blame if the bill passes. To date, there have been 3 hearings on the issue and, according to Rep. Webster, no one representing a public university has testified. Several merchants have testified in support of the bill, and one private debit card program operator spoke in opposition. He adds that there will likely be one more hearing after which he expects the bill to pass from the committee and be sent to house chambers. He expects that the bill–due the number of cosponsors already on board–will pass the House. Once it goes to the Senate he makes no predictions.

Says Rep. Webster, institutions “all have lobbyists that know the process. They should get involved in the public hearings.” Anyone wishing to comment on the bill should contact his aide, Jamie Kocinski, at (614) 644-5094.

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