Rather than attempt a major overhaul of bankruptcy laws, Congress should make the system "fairer and more uniform."
That's the advice Brady C. Williamson, chairman of the National Bankruptcy Review Commission, gave lawmakers Wednesday.
Mr. Williamson said the congressionally appointed task force he leads favors preempting many state laws that prevent creditors from going after a borrower's home equity.
Also, Congress should "provide reasonable incentives" for debtors to pay off more of their obligations. "The approach would not change the fundamental architecture of the consumer bankruptcy system," he said.
The nine-member commission is required to make its final recommendations to Congress by Oct. 20. The group was commissioned in 1994 because of worries about rising consumer debt and overburdened bankruptcy courts.
Before the House Judiciary Committee's commercial and administrative law subcommittee, Mr. Williamson outlined several changes to consumer bankruptcy law the commission will probably recommend.
For instance, Congress should provide "reasonable incentives" for debt- burdened individuals to choose Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, which requires that they pay off more of their debts than Chapter 7.
Rep. George W. Gekas, who leads the subcommittee, agreed. "Loss of assets should act as a deterrent to reckless activity," said the Pennsylvania Republican.
Mr. Williamson said lawmakers must also reduce disparities between state laws that protect homeowner equity from creditors. Current state laws differ dramatically. In Pennsylvania, for example, home equity gets no protection, while protection is unlimited in Florida and Texas.
Specific details of the commission's proposals are still being worked out, Mr. Williamson said.
Mr. Williamson said the commission's recommendations for corporate bankruptcies will probably include:
Eliminating "double appeals" by requiring appeals to go directly to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Currently, they first go to federal district court or a bankruptcy appellate panel.
Limiting the location of bankruptcy filings to a company's principal place of business or the location of most of its assets. Exemptions would be allowed if the debtor's parent company has a bankruptcy filing pending in another court.