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California Homeowner Bill of Rights provisions pass committee

Two central provisions of the California Homeowner Bill of Rights passed through a conference committee Wednesday, sending the bills to expected votes early next week in the state assembly and senate.

The committee approved the Foreclosure Reduction Act, which restricts the process of dual-tracked foreclosures and the Due Process Rights Act, which guarantees a single point of contact for struggling homeowners to discuss their loan. The latter also imposes civil penalties on the practice of fraudulently signing foreclosure documents without verifying their accuracy.

If approved, the two Acts will travel to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, where other provisions of the bill await approval. Brown has not indicated whether he will sign the passed legislation.

“I am gratified by this vote, which represents one more step toward our goal of achieving a Homeowner Bill of Rights for California,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement.

The Homeowner Bill of Rights aims to extract many of the mortgage reforms in the $25 billion national mortgage settlement and write them into California law so they could apply to all mortgage-holders in the state. Harris, who created a mortgage fraud strike force in March 2011 to investigate and prosecute misconduct related to mortgages and foreclosures, negotiated $18 billion for California from the settlement with the nation’s five largest banks.

Despite intense opposition to various elements of the Homeowner Bill of Rights, they continue to pass through state committees.

Last week, the Assembly Public Safety Committee unanimously passed a piece of the bill that allows the state’s attorney general to convene a special grand jury to investigate and indict perpetrators of financial crimes involving victims in more than one county. It will be heard next in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

But the California Mortgage Bankers Association and other organizations continue to express their opposition the legislation. On Monday, the group sent a letter to committee members asserting that, as proposed, the measures “reflect an overly-complicated approach to prohibiting dual-tracking.“

“We believe that these measures lack clarity around critical definitions, including whether the proposal is truly limited to first lien mortgages,” the letter stated. “Proponents indicated that the legislation would not create a right to a loan modification or the creation of a loan modification program if the mortgage servicer currently does not offer such a program. We believe that the most recent language fails to address this concern.”

The organizations criticize the conference committee for suspending bill negotiations with them despite two months remaining in the legislative session. The decision is “troubling and fails to meet the desired outcome that we remain committed to of reaching common ground,” they said.

The California Office of Attorney General did not immediately respond when asked to comment further on the suspended discussions.

And federal regulators are getting involved. In May, 14 members of the California Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter to the Federal Housing Finance Agency Wednesday blasting its involvement and opposition to key pieces of the Homeowner Bill of Rights.

“The mortgage and foreclosure abuse in California ends here,” said Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, co-chair of the Joint Conference Committee, in response to the passing of the two provisions.

“The legislature has studied, listened and engaged Californians and industry to find a solution that is fair and effective to mitigate this crisis,” she added. “I look forward to the full support of the legislature and governor in implementing this package.”

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