WASHINGTON - Congressional staffers have begun laying the groundwork for the bankruptcy reform conference committee's first official meeting, scheduled for early next month.

A staff meeting Friday was billed as an opportunity for aides to the committee's members to get acquainted and discuss procedural matters. According to sources close to the conference, the staffers agreed to write a series of technical corrections to the legislation. Those corrections are expected to be the committee's first order of business next month.

Staff members also discussed whether the conference would follow House and Senate rules prohibiting changes to portions of the legislation where the versions from each chamber are identical, sources said.

But sources said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., may want to put aside such rules and open the entire bill to negotiation - a move that could lead to a lengthy formal conference.

Proponents of the industry-backed bill, which is intended to relieve creditors from shouldering much of the debt of bankrupt Americans, had hoped the key differences between the House and Senate measures could be ironed out by staffers during this month's congressional recess to avoid a lengthy formal conference this fall.

The primary hot-button issues are whether to supersede state "homestead" laws, which let wealthy debtors thwart creditors by buying expensive homes that are exempt from foreclosure, and whether to prohibit people convicted of violent crimes from filing for bankruptcy to avoid paying court-ordered fines.

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