Election year politics and national interest in bankruptcy reform combined to make the 21st Annual Legislative Conference, February 23-25,1992, one of the most pivotal ever. Due to a poor economy and the soaring number of bankruptcy filings, Congressional interest in bankruptcy reform is keen. In fact, pending bankruptcy legislation made NACM member visits to their Capitol Hill policymakers particularly timely and fortuitous.
NACM not only stands in an excellent position to affect change, but as several speakers noted, Congress is increasingly seeking NACM input in many legislative areas. S.1985,an omnibus bankruptcy bill, for example, contains the NACM proposal to include a Chapter 10 in the bankruptcy code to expedite small business reorganizations. NACM also testified within the past year on a host of creditor issues, ranging from reclamations to lender liability.
Governmental Affairs Committee Plays Key Role
Key, too, reported NACM special counsel, Charles M. Tatelbaum, was last year's appointment of NACM members to the American Bankruptcy Institute Committee which advises Congress on bankruptcy law. In the pre-conference Government Affairs Committeemeeting, Tatelbaum and Jim Wise,NACM's Washington, D.C. representative, outlined NACM's government affairs agenda, including other necessary bankruptcy reforms, revisions to the Miller Act to enable small government contractors to use letters of credit in lieu of surety bonds, enforcement of the Prompt Pay Act, and raising the small claims court ceiling limits to $10,000 (see sidebar).
The Omnibus Bankruptcy Bill, which includes a provision to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the bankruptcy code, "stands a good chance of being enacted by the end of this session," Wise told the NACM Government Affairs Committee. This means NACM is in a good position to influence the process every step of the way, Wise said, and the legislation already includes NACM suggestions to reverse the Deprizo rule, codify reimbursement for actual and necessary expenses of creditor committtees in Chapter 11, and create a new Chapter 10 section of the code for small business bankruptcy filings.
"Expediency at the Expense of Justice"
The first conference speaker, Judge Paul Mannes, U.S. bankruptcy judge, Rockville,Md.,and president of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, shared members' concerns that with the burgeoning number of bankruptcy cases, "expediency may be taking place at the expense of justice." He pointed out the ways he trys to prevent delays, including weeding out cases that don't belong in Chapter 11 proceedings to begin with and spending more time on preparation. He said he favors the British bankruptcy system and tries "to cut verbosity, get the parties to agree on the real issues, and resolve them."
Other obstacles bankruptcy judges face, he said, are proposals to combine bankruptcy cases within the federal court system and moves by the federal courts to take over bankruptcy court facilities. But counter proposals call for hiring more bankruptcy judges and enabling retired judges to be "recalled" to other districts at full pay, rather than current practice (retired judges only receive the difference between retirement pay and pay for services).
Congressman Aspin Sounds a Defense Warning
Keynote speaker Congressman Les Aspin, (D-Wis.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, sounded a warning to those who believe the break up of the Soviet Union will mean outlays of capital for defense will now be used for domestic programs. Major defense concerns remain, he said, including the large arsenal of nuclear weapons in four former Soviet Republics and the use of nuclear weapons by terrorists.
"Star Wars still makes sense in this context," he said. "At least the Russians were rational. But terrorists add a new dimension to the nuclear threat. …