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Y2K an issue in governor's race

California gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren backs a federal bill to limit lawsuits arising from the millennium bug.

Wooing the high-tech industry in California's gubernatorial race, state attorney general Dan Lungren today backed federal legislation to limit the costly lawsuits companies could face if their products go awry in the year 2000.

At a press conference today, the Republican candidate said he Back to Year 2000 Index Page wants Congress to pass the Year 2000 Readiness Disclosure Act to limit legal liability for companies that share information about how to fix the Y2K software bug.

The Y2K glitch could occur in 2000 if computers don't recognize the "00" in a date or think it stands for the year 1900, experts say. Lawmakers are scrambling to speed up remedies for the problem because it could disable government databases or banking and retirement systems that handle trillions of dollars a day, among other critical systems.

The federal bill by California Reps. Dave Dreier (R) and Anna Eshoo (D), would mandate computer-technology companies to give customers free Y2K fixes for products sold after December 31, 1994. Companies that use computers to offer services or products also could can gain liability protection if they make reasonable efforts to fix the Y2K problem in their systems, run a test by July 1, 1999, and notify all customers and the president's Y2K council of their failures.

"It would establish a safe harbor for information to encourage full and accurate disclosure, and this is so important to the high-tech industry as they look forward to trying to deal with the Y2K problem," Lungren said. "If they do not have that, there is the possibility of huge numbers of lawsuits."

If elected, Lungren said he also would revitalize similar state legislation. Assemblyman Brooks Firestone's bill would have prohibited awarding damages for pain and suffering from the millennium bug, but it was killed in committee in May.

But Lungren said President Clinton's proposed "Good Samaritan" legislation, which urges competing computer companies to work together to fix the bug, doesn't give firms adequate protection from litigation.

Although he didn't have a status report for all California agencies, Lungren said the state Justice Department would be in compliance before the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve in 1999.

"We are well on the way to solving that problem in all the various programs we have," he said. "We feel we have a very good handle on that and will meet our goals well before that day."

Lungren also used the Y2K issue to establish himself as a friend of the growing high-tech constituency in the state and build support for the GOP in the race.

His opponent, Lieutenant Gov. Gray Davis, also has gained ground with the computer industry by dining with the likes of Netscape Communications cofounder Marc Andreessen--which reportedly helped him raise about $250,000 for his campaign.

"Those of us who are elected officials in California and those of use who seek the governorship ought to be fighting for California and for California industries that form the backbone of the jobs of this state," Lungren said today.

"We ought to understand that while the countdown most people have is for election day, we have less than 500 days toward the year 2000," he said. "We don't have any time to waste."