Senate Committee Drops Tax Preparer Regulation from Identity Theft Bill

The Senate Finance Committee has dropped a provision for regulating tax preparers from legislation that would curb identity theft and tax fraud.

The committee plans to markup the bill on Wednesday, but on Monday it announced it was eliminating the tax preparer regulation provision. The provision would have provided that the Treasury Department and the IRS have the authority to regulate all paid tax return preparers. It would have amended the law to encompass all aspects of federal tax practice, without regard to whether it includes representation before the Treasury, and specifies that preparation of tax returns for compensation within the meaning of the tax code is subject to regulation. The provision would also have authorized the IRS to revoke identifying numbers issued to tax return preparers for failure to comply with regulations.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, objected to stripping the provision out of the legislation. “It’s long overdue that the committee moves forward on this important legislation to protect taxpayers from fraud,” Wyden said in a statement. “However it’s missing a critical piece from the original bipartisan bill—requiring minimum standards for tax preparers—which is key to making the filing process safer and easier for consumers while curbing overall fraud. As another ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee before me wisely pointed out, it makes no sense that barbers are legally required to have more training than someone you trust with your social security number and banking information. Taxpayers have a tough enough time getting their taxes done and in on time. They shouldn’t also have to worry about being scammed.”

The original bill still includes provisions such as requiring the IRS to work with the National Taxpayer Advocate to develop guidelines for identity theft refund fraud cases to reduce burdens for victims as they sort out their tax affairs. The guidelines could include procedures to reduce the amount of time victims would have to wait to receive their tax refunds, the number of IRS employees with whom identity theft victims would need to interact, and the timeframe within which issues related to the identity theft refund fraud should be resolved. In addition, the bill would make it a felony to use a stolen identity to file a tax return or other document. Theft of an Identity Protection PIN would also become a felony.

The IRS would also be required to prepare five biannual reports on various efforts related to identity theft tax fraud that it would provide to the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee. In addition, the IRS would have to prepare a feasibility study for a program that would allow taxpayers who file an identity theft affidavit to elect to prevent the processing of any electronically-filed federal tax return submitted by the taxpayer or anyone purporting to be them, along with a recommendation on whether to implement such a program.

The Senate Finance Committee also plans to markup accompanying legislation on Wednesday known as the Taxpayer Protection Act of 2016, which includes provisions such as extending the time limit for contesting an IRS levy beyond nine months. The bill would also require the Government Accountability Office to conduct studies on the IRS’s exercise of its authority to compromise tax matters and on opportunities for hearings before the IRS Office of Appeals.

“The Finance Committee has a keen, bipartisan interest in protecting taxpayers from identity theft and refund fraud,” Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement. “As we heard at our recent hearing, right now there are numerous threats facing taxpayers when it comes to safeguarding their private information, and action from Congress is needed to implement policies that will curtail this constant threat. That is why I am pleased to announce, that after months of discussions with committee members, we have found a workable path forward on an important bill aimed at preventing identity theft and refund fraud. I’m also pleased that we will be considering an additional bill that provides further protections for taxpayers. At the markup, I plan to promote a constructive and open process for members on both sides of the aisle to let the committee work its will as we look to advance smart policies that will protect taxpayers.”

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