Sheridan said he does not intend to resign as speaker, which is the Assembly’s highest position, and no vote to remove him was taken in a closed-door meeting of Democratic Assembly members earlier Thursday.
Sheridan told the Gazette he and his colleagues spent “five to eight minutes” discussing the rumors Thursday. He said no one called for him to step aside and he left the meeting believing that fellow Assembly Democrats supported him.
Lobbyists who fear a strong bill regulating the payday loan industry started the rumors, said Sheridan of Janesville.
“They can see that it’s coming,” he said
The speaker said 22 lobbyists hired by payday lenders and related groups are fighting the bill.
Sheridan, who filed for divorce in October, discounted rumors that he had an affair with one of those lobbyists.
“I dated someone, but there was no relationship,” Sheridan told the Gazette. “I took someone to a Christmas party, and now people are making a big deal of it.”
Asked whether that person was connected to the payday legislation, Sheridan said: “That’s personal stuff that I’m just not going to get into.”
In an interview earlier Thursday, Sheridan said what he does outside of the Capitol is his private business, and he will not discuss it.
The payday loan bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, also said Thursday he believed lobbyists opposed to the bill were trying to disrupt its passage.
The bill would prohibit lenders from charging more than 36 percent annual interest rates on consumer loans, which supporters say would protect consumers from the abusive practices of payday lending.
Sheridan supported a similar proposal during a previous legislative session, but he said in September that this year’s proposal goes too far because it would wipe out the payday lending industry and kill jobs. That is the same claim that industry groups have been making with a full-court lobbying blitz meant to protect their businesses and kill the plan.
Sheridan referred the bill to the Assembly committee on financial institutions chaired by Democratic Rep. Jason Fields of Milwaukee, who has called the cap unnecessary and hasn’t held a public hearing.
Hintz, the bill’s sponsor, said he met in September with Sheridan to iron out their differences on the proposal. Hintz said Sheridan has assured him it will move before the end of the legislative session.
“I remain more confident now than I was a few months ago we’re going to get something through,” Hintz said.
Payday loans are small, short-term loans with extremely high interest rates that amount to advances on a borrower’s next paycheck. Payday lenders say they are often the only source of credit available for many low-income people who desperately need cash.
Critics say the loans trap the poor in a crushing cycle of borrowing and debt. That’s because borrowers who cannot pay their loans back often roll them over, are required to pay additional fees, and then take out more loans or refinance them to keep up with payments.
A bipartisan group of 43 representatives, including a majority of Democrats, signed on to the bill creating the 36 percent cap.
Wisconsin is the only state that does not set a rate cap for lenders, which has fueled a rapid growth of the industry. Wisconsin had 530 licensed payday lenders in 2008, up from 200 just six years earlier.