As sponsors of the New York City's ATM anticrime legislation predicted earlier this year, other cities and states are following the same path.

In the last three months, several municipalities -- ranging in size from Philadelphia to Sioux Falls, S.D. -- have begun legislative initiatives aimed at preventing robberies and other crimes against automated teller machine customers.

At the state level, Florida and New Jersey legislators are in the process of drafting ATM security bills, and experts say several other states may soon follow.

While the final outcome of the legislative efforts remains to be seen, New York City Council members Walter McCaffrey and Ronnie Eldridge view them as a satisfying epilogue to their own passage last summer of a tough bill over bankers' objections.

The two local lawmakers, who were the most prominent sponsors of the New York ATM law passed earlier this year, had predicted that legislation would have a profound effect on how the nation as a whole views ATM safety.

However, bankers elsewhere are taking steps to ensure that the new legislation will reflect a cooperative effort between the industry and lawmakers.

"Because of the situation that developed in New York, we have been making proactive cooperation with would-be legislative a priority," said John Milstead, executive vice president at the Florida State Bankers Association in Orlando.

A number of Florida banks have banded together with the Florida Department of Banking to talk out the specifies of a bill that is expected to be written by January.

According to the department director, Terry Straub, Florida banks are "eager to avoid what happened in New York. They're saying, 'Let's get a set of rules that are born in calm rather than in the confusion of 11th-hour politics.'"

The Florida negotiations are following a model being promoted by the Consumer Bankers Association. Its board has endorsed a position paper encouraging bankers to be "proactive" in both crime prevention and lobbying, opening public dialogues before legislative efforts pass them by.

"Our aim is to make the people at the top of the bank aware that there is a concern, and that more has to be done for consumer and community awareness of ATM safety," said Marcia Z. Sullivan, the Consumer Bankers' director of government relations.

Among the Arlington, Va., trade group's recommendations, issued last month, are: improving lighting and removing visual obstructions at ATMs, meeting with law-enforcement officials, and making ATM safely information available to news media.

California Model Used

Although the New York law seems to be providing the impetus, experts said most of the recent bills resemble a less stringent ATM security law that California enacted in 1990.

The first in the nation, the California ATM law specifies minimum lighting levels and restricts the height of shrubs near ATM sites, which muggers could use as a hiding place.

But California stopped short of the costly requirements for full-motion video cameras and sophisticated door-access devices mentioned in the New York legislation.

While many banker and ATM networks executives are eager to embrace what they consider "reasonable" standards, some are upset that the banking industry is being assigned responsibility to fight crime.

John Byrne, senior counsel at the American Bankers Association, said there were about 36,000 robberies at convenience stores in 1991, compared with less than 10,000 bank-related robbery incidents.

Of the latter number, ATM crime was only a fraction. Yet there is no outcry for increased security at 7-Elevens or other 24-hour stores.

'Indirect' Lawsuits Feared

Adding to bankers' discomfort with the new laws is the specter of costly lawsuits as an indirect result of non-compliance.

Since ATM laws set standards for establishing what constitutes security negligence, people injured in ATM crimes could find it easier to sue the machine owners, said Karen Grimm, a partner with Washington-based Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan.

The fact that much of the legislative activity thus far has been on the local and state levels complicates matters even more for the multiregional banking companies that may soon find themselves trying to sort out the nuances of three or four laws at the same time.

Many bankers are hoping these and other issues will be resolved by federal regulatory action. An ATM security bill woven into existing legislation could establish national standards and preempt local or state laws.

But experts warn such legislation may be a long time coming. It would not only have to wait until the next Congress, it would be in need of a new champion because consumer-oriented Rep. Esteban E. Torres, D-Calif., recently said he will leave the House Banking Committee.

Though bankers see some advantages to federal legislation, it also carries some drawbacks, including the likelihood of stiffer penalties for non-compliance than in state and local laws.

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