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Tech Industry

Year 2000 lawsuit bill revived

Advocates for an anti-Y2K lawsuit bill that failed in California have persuaded some members of Congress to push for a similar bill on Capital Hill.

    Taking advantage of growing concerns in Washington D.C. about the Year 2000 technology problem, advocates for an anti-Y2K lawsuit bill that failed in the California Assembly have persuaded some members of Congress to push for a similar bill on Capitol Hill.

    The bill before Congress is partly based on the California proposal and looks to restrict most Year 2000 disputes to contract actions if defendants meet goals for avoiding Y2K failures. Such a bill would protect companies from having to pay out huge court awards for Year 2000 related problems.

    Part of the measure, which was authored by Rep. David Dreir (R-California) and Rep. Christopher Cox (R-California), provides a targeted antitrust exemption to encourage corporate cooperation in solving problems.

    The Dreier-Cox bill is similar to President Bill Clinton's proposed legislation to limit legal liability for companies that share information on fixing the massive software bug.

    At a press conference last week on the Y2K issue, Clinton said this "Good Samaritan" law would encourage companies to work together more closely for the common good of all--a rare occurrence in the hypercompetitive high-tech industry.

    With the beltway's latest swell of interest about the technology problem, supporters of the bill--a varied group of California legislators, local politicians, and members of the Association For California Tort Reform--say the meaure has a good chance at passing.

    The bug comes from antiquated hardware and software formats that denote years in two-digit formats, such as 98 for 1998 and 99 for 1999. The glitch will occur in 2000, when computers are either fooled into thinking the year is 1900 or interpret the 2000 as a meaningless "00." The glitch could throw out of whack everything from bank systems to building security procedures, critics warn.

    John Sullivan, president of the Association for California Tort Reform in California, said an expected increase in Y2K lawsuits may ensure passage of the bill as well.

    "There wasn't a sense of urgency last time," Sullivan said. "There were only a few lawsuits happening. If at this time next year, there are more lawsuits, this bill will have a better chance."

    According to Sullivan, California is the only state in the nation which has had a Y2K bill before state legislators. A similar measure in New York never made it to the legislators.

    In full, the Dreier-Cox bill requires computer-related companies to make fixes available to customers for their non-Y2K compatible hardware and software, and those fixes must be available cost-free for products sold after December 31, 1994. Companies that use computers can gain similar liability protection if they make all reasonable efforts to fix the Y2K problems in their systems, run a test by July 1, 1999, and notify all customers and the President's Y2K council of their own Y2K failures by August, 1 1999.

    Sullivan said if the measure passes as a federal bill it would be a much smoother solution, than if individual states each passed their own version of the legislation.

    Although new bill isn't expected to be debated by the end of this session, continued support for the legislation from software giants, like Intel, will also help, say supporters. Intel was also on board last May.