May 1, 2006

Senate panel to weigh regulatory relief Thursday

By Kristin Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate panel on Thursday will
debate a long-anticipated bill aimed at easing oversight of the
financial services industry but which excludes many provisions
contained in a similar bill approved by the House.

The Senate Banking Committee on Monday said it would hold
its mark-up session, where panel members consider various
provisions of proposed legislation, on May 4. Any planned
amendments to the bill must be submitted by Tuesday afternoon.

While thinner than legislation advanced by the House of
Representatives in March, the Senate bill from Republican
Michael Crapo of Idaho includes a host of provisions affecting
banks, credit unions and savings associations. Many are
supported by both the industry and its federal regulators.

The bill would, for example, increase to $500 million from
$250 million the asset threshold that qualifies a small bank to
be examined every 18 months rather than every year. That would
still be below the threshold some regulatory agencies sought.

The Senate bill also would clarify state regulators'

It would underscore that state regulators have authority
for the institutions chartered in their states. Those
regulators, known as home state regulators, have primary
responsibility for assuring the safety and soundness of
financial institutions in their states, under the bill.

Host state regulators -- those in states where banks have a
presence but are not based -- must enter cooperative agreements
with the bank's home state in order to examine the institution
for compliance with host-state laws, under the bill.

Crapo's bill, however, does not include other provisions
hoped for by industry, such as a measure that would reduce the
number of cash transaction reports that banks must file under
the Bank Secrecy Act.

Instead, the Senate legislation would require the U.S.
Comptroller General, head of the Government Accountability
Office, to study the volume of those cash transaction reports
and make recommendations for changes to the filing system.

Another study on the cost and overall regulation of
financial services would also be required under the bill.

Industry lobbyists said they expected few amendments would
be proposed on Thursday. If advanced out of committee, the
legislation would have to be cleared on the Senate floor and
then House and Senate negotiators would work out the
differences between their bills.