By Jeannine anderson and Kerana Todorov
WASHINGTON – Internal Revenue Service employees who snoop into taxpayers’ records without authorization would be subject to criminal penalties, under separate bills approved unanimously in the House and Senate Tuesday.
The vote in the House was 412-0; the vote in the Senate was 97-0.
All 10 Maryland members of Congress were present and voting.
Because the measures were slightly different, one chamber must now pass the other’s before a bill can be sent to President Clinton.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said Tuesday the administration supports the measures. “We want quick, appropriate and severe penalties for those who violate these rules,” he said in a written statement.
Under both bills, any IRS employee – or any other federal employee – who is convicted of unauthorized snooping could be fined as much as $1,000 and jailed up to a year. He or she also would be fired.
The measure also would apply to state employees with access to tax records.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, said his vote was what his constituents wanted. “The public is becoming less tolerant of people interfering in their lives,” he said. “I think it’s up to us in Congress to do all we can to make sure there are no abuses of people’s privacy.”
Other Marylanders shared his sentiments.
“Snooping is clearly wrong,” said Rep. Ben Cardin, D- Baltimore.
Over the last six years, there have been more than 3,000 cases in which IRS employees were caught perusing tax records they had not been authorized to look at, said Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga.
“This is reprehensible activity,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor. “These are very, very personal records.”
Among the tax records that curious IRS workers have peeked at are those of singers Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley, actors Tom Cruise and Lucille Ball, and Clinton, said Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, who joined Coverdell in introducing the Senate bill. “Nobody should be allowed to look at our tax returns,” said Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda. -30-