Situation described as human rights issue

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FARMINGTON — Information about regulations and laws governing small loans and similar lending services was shared during a seminar on Wednesday organized by the Office of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

Leonard Gorman, executive director for the office, said the effects of small loans on communities is a human rights issue, and that is why the office was conducting the seminar.

"There are entities and companies across the country that hover around communities where the poor people live, and that's where they make the money," Gorman said.

Lawyers from legal advocacy organizations and private firms spoke during the event at the Farmington Civic Center.

Cassie Fleming, an attorney with New Mexico Legal Aid, a civil legal advocacy organization based in Albuquerque, talked about small loans, which state law defines as those that are are for less than $5,000.

Fleming mentioned before her presentation there are more licenses for small loan companies in San Juan and McKinley counties than anywhere else in the state.

"The effect is that it's making these counties a lot poorer than they need to be," she said.

In an effort to address the issue, state lawmakers have enacted a law to cap annual percentage rates and specify what information must be provided on loan agreements. 

"You are always allowed to take a loan contract home with you when you go into one of these lending companies. You don't have to sign it there in the store," Fleming said.

The borrower has the right to review and compare loan contracts, and the annual percentage rate must be disclosed in a bold font, she added.

Rob Treinen, an attorney with the Treinen Law Office in Albuquerque, spoke about state statutes for loans issued by pawn shops and the disposal or sale of items.

"As everyone from this area knows, there is a long, long history with pawn shops and their connections to Native communities," Treinen said.

The purpose of the pawnbrokers act was to limit interest rates for such loans in addition to protecting the exploitation of Native art and handcrafts, he added.

The law established regulations for conducting business with pawnbrokers and determined what information must be listed on pawn tickets, including descriptions for items and about the person receiving the loan.

"It's not just the finances of it. It is also a human rights thing because people should be treated fairly and with dignity," Treinen said. "They're human beings, and they're not just a way to make money and to profit off of."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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