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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended May 14, 2000
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Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

Hatch Champions Bill To Make Bankruptcy Less Appealing
Austin TX American Statesman 13May00 N2
By Marcy Gordon: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC -- Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is championing a proposal to stem the rise in bankruptcy abuse which in recent years reached a record 1.4 million in 1998, up more than 300 percent since 1980. The amended legislation would make it harder for people to erase debts through bankruptcy. Bills H.R. 833 in the House and S.945 in the Senate have raised considerable protest from consumer advocates, unions, women's groups and religious leaders.

In a letter to senior lawmakers, Jack Lew , White House budget director wrote that the administration had "serious concerns." "The president supports balanced consumer bankruptcy reform that would encourage responsibility and reduce abuses of the bankruptcy system on the part of debtors and creditors alike," Lew said. "He believes that we can eliminate abuse without hurting those forced to turn to bankruptcy."

Lew's letter did not directly address Hatch's new proposal but pointed out that bankruptcy legislation must contain "appropriate safeguards against coercive creditor practices that compel debtors to forgo their rights and that disadvantage more scrupulous creditors."

Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, the Senate Banking Committee's senior Democrat, is accusing the proposal of "allowing unfettered collection activities." The amendment would exempt collectors from the debt collection practices law that involves checks that have been outstanding for more than 30 days. Debt collectors could phone people at any time of the day or night and charge them high fees if they fail to make good on bounced checks, according to Hatch's plan.

The House and Senate bills, both passed by veto-margins, would apply new standards to determining whether people filing for bankruptcy should be forced to repay their debts under court-approved reorganization plan instead of having them dissolved.

The House and Senate are trying to meld the two bills into one measure before it is sent to President Clinton. Critics say the legislation would hurt people who have suffered financial misfortune as a result of losing their jobs, getting divorced or huge medical expenses.


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