Taxpayer Rights

For years, people have complained about the high-handed ways of the Internal Revenue Service. With its guilty-until-proven-innocent approach, the agency's bullying tactics have won it few friends.

Now Congress is offering some relief. The House of Representatives April 16 unanimously passed a taxpayer-rights bill (HR 2337) to help level the playing field between the individual taxpayer and the IRS. Among other things, the bill would:

*Allow taxpayers to sue IRS for up to $1 million for reckless collections, up from the current $100,000.

*Require IRS to notify former spouses when it moves to collect jointly owed taxes from the other spouse.

*Make it easier for taxpayers who win lawsuits against IRS to get reimbursement of legal fees and raise the cap from $75 an hour to $110.

*Permit use of companies other than the Postal Service to deliver tax returns and other documents to IRS.

*Replace the current IRS ombudsman with a taxpayer advocate having expanded powers to require the agency to reissue refund checks and meet deadlines.

*Require IRS to give taxpayers 30 days' notice before canceling installment-payment agreements.

*Make it easier for IRS to remove liens on property and to accept compromise settlement offers to repay delinquent taxes.

President Clinton says he'll sign the measure, which is currently before the Senate. The question there is whether the bill will pass on its own or as part of a larger tax bill, which the president may veto.

The bill's provisions could go further, but some relief is better than none. Senators should pass the proposal quickly.

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