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Congress OKs lawsuit curbs

With high tech in mind, Congress passes legislation to rein in shareholder suits against companies with volatile stock prices.

With high-tech companies in mind, both the House and Senate today passed legislation to curb shareholder lawsuits against companies with volatile stock prices.

The House passed S1260, the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act, which would require that large-scale shareholder lawsuits be filed only in federal courts, on a 319-82 vote today after the Senate gave its unanimous consent on an earlier voice vote.

The legislation already cleared both houses, but lawmakers had to approve a conference report that reconciled differences between the House version and the Senate version of the bill before it could be sent to President Clinton, who has promised to sign it.

Endorsed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and pushed by Silicon Valley's TechNet trade group, the legislation would impose "uniform standards" regarding shareholder lawsuits filed in state courts against nationally traded public companies.

"Many felt that [uniform national standards] couldn't be passed in a year," said John Doerr, co-chairman of TechNet and partner with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "But Congress is recognizing the importance of the New Economy to our nation."

If signed into law, class-action shareholder suits brought against companies for failed earnings would have to be filed in federal court. The legislation would change a 1995 securities law that made it more difficult for plaintiffs to file in federal court.

Proponents say the statute will protect the slew of public high-tech start-ups from being sued in every state, arguing that such suits have the potential to stifle the growing computer industry.

Federal lawmakers are struggling to pass budget bills and get back to their districts so they can stump for the November election. But a handful of high-tech bills hang in the balance, and the online and computer industries are ramping up efforts to get 11th-hour passage of bills ranging from the securities legislation to a three-year moratorium on new Net taxes.

The House is expected to adjourn tomorrow.

News.com reporter Corey Grice contributed to this report.