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Ban banks' debit card fees? State Rep. Clemens says it can be done in Florida

Banking giants Bank of America and Wells Fargo would not be allowed to charge Florida customers for use of their debit cards under legislation filed Monday by Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

His bill, HB 375, would make it unlawful "to charge or impose a dormancy fee, and inactivity fee or charge, or a service fee with respect to the use or holding of a debit card by a consumer."

His proposal comes amid outrage this month among Bank of America customers. The corporation announced it will charge customers who use debit cards for purchases a $5 monthly fee to offset implementation of certain regulations under the federal Dodd-Frank banking bill.

Other banks moving toward adding additional charges for debit cards include SunTrust, Regions Financial, Chase and Wells Fargo.

"They sold us on the idea that we were going to move to a cashless society," said Clemens, an energy performance contractor and former newspaper journalist.

If you're like us, your reaction to his proposal was probably something like, "Can he do that?"

Clemens says he can, citing a 2009 Supreme Court case, Cuomo v. Clearing House Association, that, as he reads it, affirmed states have a right to regulate commerce within their borders, even if institutions stretch beyond their lines.

"It's been a long-held belief that states don't have the right to regulate federal banking institutions," he said. "The Cuomo case and the Supreme Court say differently."

He said he thought of the idea a few months ago, back when a couple national banks announced their intentions to collect the monthly fees for debit card usage. It is not a result of the Occupy Wall Street movement, though "the overarching theme of large corporations taking advantage of average people is still there," he said.

Clemens is a former disgruntled Bank of America customer. He said he left the bank for "deceptive practices" in 2008 for PNC Bank, which has not yet sprung surprise charges.