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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:

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*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.

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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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