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Delay on credit card surcharge vote not expected to thwart bill's passage

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The state Legislature's efforts to ban credit card surcharges hit a last-minute delay last week, but a key sponsor still expects swift passage of the legislation.

Gary S. Schaer

The Assembly had been scheduled to vote on the ban Thursday, which would have sent the measure to Gov. Chris Christie's desk. But Assemblyman Gary S. Schaer (D-Passaic) said he and Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-East Orange) decided at the last minute to delay the vote.

"We need to get additional clarity on one or two issues," said Schaer, chair of the Assembly's Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. "It is my hope and the speaker's hope that we will have the bill up in the next bill list."

The bill would forbid retailers from exercising their new contractual right to pass credit card interchange fees on to customers in the form of surcharges tacked onto the bills of customers who pay with plastic. Visa and MasterCard changed their policies Jan. 27 to allow retailers to use surcharges as part of a proposed lawsuit settlement.

The state Senate already has passed the ban.

Schaer said the outstanding questions revolve around the issue of cash discounts, which are essentially the inverse of credit card surcharges. Many gas stations give customers a discount if they pay with cash, and the bill passed by the Senate includes an amendment expressly stating that gas stations may continue to do so. But Schaer said there's still some question as to what the bill would mean for other retailers that might want to offer cash discounts.

"There is continuing controversy over whether the way the bill is currently written would preclude cash discounts," he said.

Ten states already have laws limiting surcharges, and Schaer said most expressly allow cash discounts. The bill before the New Jersey Legislature is modeled after a law in California, he said.

The bill has so far seen bipartisan support, though retailers have fought against the ban, arguing that it's a solution in search of a problem. They say no retailer would want to add surcharges, because doing so might alienate customers.

But Schaer said there is one key player that has yet to be heard from.

"We're also hoping that by that time (the Assembly next votes on the bill), we can get an understanding from the administration as to what their feelings are on the bill," he said. "So far, we're not 100 percent sure."

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