WASHINGTON - Promising hearings on the Community Reinvestment Act, a key lawmaker Wednesday asked bank and thrift regulators to delay making changes in the rules that implement the controversial law.

Rep. Marge Roukema, the New Jersey Republican who recently took the helm of the House Banking subcommittee on financial institutions, sent a letter to the four agency heads announcing that she plans to hold hearings on the impact of CRA reform.

"We strongly urge you not to make the proposed revisions final until we have adequate time to review the impact of the revisions," Rep. Roukema wrote. "We intend to commence hearings on this matter in the very near future."

The subcommittee's vice chairman, Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., also signed the letter.

The request tracks legislation introduced this month by Republicans in the House and Senate that would impose a six-month moratorium on new regulations.

Federal Reserve Board Governor Lawrence B. Lindsey said Wednesday that the regulators will "take a good look at" Rep. Roukema's appeal.

"I think we always value input from the Hill," he said. "I'm just going to have to talk to my colleagues at the other agencies" before commenting further.

The agency chiefs met yesterday afternoon to consider final changes to the proposed CRA rules, which they have been aiming to finish by the end of February. (See related story, page 3)

Spokesmen for the other agencies had no reaction to the letter yesterday, explaining that the regulators are still digesting Rep. Roukema's request.

The agencies' struggle to hone CRA regulations began in June 1992 with a goal of refocusing the rules to emphasize a bank's reinvestment record rather than its compliance documentation.

The first proposal for change was greeted by 6,700 comment letters from the industry. That prompted the agencies to try again, but the September 1994 revision was lambasted by bankers as well.

Criticism has focused on new reporting requirements - based on race and sex - for small business and farm loans, a point that didn't escape Rep. Roukema.

"Certainly the new data collection requirements will result in an increased record keeping burden - primarily for large institutions - that may not contribute to the goals of CRA," she wrote the regulators.

Rep. Roukema also charged the agencies and the Justice Department with relying on "creative interpretations of existing statutes" to press CRA and fair-lending cases before the new rules are in place.

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