Senators John McCain (R-Arizona), an unofficial presidential contender for 2000, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Bob Bennett (R-Utah), and Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) met last night to discuss the bills in a continuing effort to combine the best elements from all three into one bipartisan measure that will get the needed votes to pass the Senate, according to Senate staffers.
Last night, "they agreed that they would work together to come up with a bill that will be as strong as it can be and still get the 60 votes needed," said Jeanne Lopatto, press secretary for the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Hatch is chairman.
Hatch, Dodd, and McCain, who is Senate Commerce Committee chairman, all have submitted their own bills.
According to Senate staffers familiar with last night's meeting, one of the main sticking points involves placing caps on the amount in damages that can be awarded in non-Year 2000 compliance suits. Most likely, the final bill that comes out of these negotiations will not include these caps.
In their current form, the McCain and Hatch bills would cap punitive damages to $250,000 for many businesses and limit the personal liability of corporate officers and directors to $100,000 in many cases.
"I don't think either of these bills have a snowball's chance in you know where" of getting passed as they are written now, said Dodd at a press conference yesterday.
The damages cap debate has followed the bills since they were first discussed in committee.
Before Congress went on recess last month, the two bills put together by Republicans Hatch and McCain immediately drew fire from the Justice Department, and other critics complained that the bills went too far, giving too much protection to high-tech businesses at the expense of consumers.
Under pressure from Democrats and consumer advocates, Senate Republicans said last month that they would rework bills that would limit lawsuits against high-tech companies stemming from the Year 2000 computer bug.
As a result, Dodd submitted his own bill, the "Y2K Fairness in Litigation Act," which would, among other things, establish a 90-day waiting period before anyone could file a Y2K lawsuit to encourage parties to correct and mitigate Y2K-related errors; encourage alternative dispute resolution; set minimal injury standards for class action suits; and require Y2K claims to be specific and detailed in order to weed out frivolous claims.
"If we seek through this legislation to achieve broad tort reform, we run the risk that we will not have meaningful Y2K liability protection," Dodd said just days before he submitted his own bill.
Despite the heated criticism coming from the Senate Democrats and the Clinton Administration, Republicans are optimistic that they can forge a bill all sides will agree on.
"We will come up with a combination of the Hatch, McCain, and Dodd bills so we can get a bill on the floor," said Bennett, who is also the chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. "A majority of the Senate wants to pass a Y2K litigation bill before next recess."