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Senate backs Y2K lawsuit limit

Legislation that would limit lawsuits against corporations dealing with Y2K problems is passed by the U.S. Senate.

Legislation that would limit lawsuits against corporations dealing with Y2K problems was passed by the Senate, staffers said.

The legislation, backed by a bipartisan group of senators and the Clinton administration, is intended to help break the silence by businesses and others and encourage greater disclosure of plans to wipe out the dreaded millennium bug. It now goes to the House of Representatives.

Despite earlier criticism from some lawmakers in the Senate and a lawyers association, as well as the omnipresent Lewinsky matter, supporters of the bill are confident about its passage in the House.

"We feel we have the bipartisan support in the House to get it passed swiftly," said Jack Gribben, spokesman for the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. "We hope that they will take it up soon."

The bill would not provide liability protection for failures that may arise from Year 2000 problems--related to older systems programmed to read only the last two digits of years--nor does the measure remove liability for selling products or services that fail to work.

"The prompt, candid, and thorough disclosure and exchange of information related to year 2000 readiness of entities, products, and services would greatly enhance the ability of public and private entities to improve their year 2000 readiness; and is therefore a matter of national importance and a vital factor in minimizing any potential year 2000-related disruption to the nation's economic well-being and security," the legislative clerk read last night from the bill's language before the vote.

The Senate's approval of the bill came just 11 days after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the legislation.

The measure came as a result of earlier testimony before a special congressional panel on the Year 2000 issue, which revealed that there was a reluctance to share information for fear of litigation.

The Y2K bug is rooted in the way dates are recorded and computed. For the past several decades, systems programmers have typically used two digits to represent the year in an effort to conserve memory. With this two-digit format, however, the year 2000 is indistinguishable from 1900, or 2001 from 1901.

Early response by congressional leaders to the bill's success was generally positive, though official statements on the vote have yet to be released.