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Tech Industry

Y2K bill finally reaches White House

Legislation that will limit lawsuits sparked by the Year 2000 technology glitch reaches the White House.

It took some time getting there and it may take time getting signed into law, but legislation that will limit lawsuits sparked by the Year 2000 technology glitch reached the White House today.

But with the President engaged in talks at Camp David with the Prime Minister of Israel, Clinton isn't likely to sign the bill until discussions end, a White House spokesperson said.

The President has ten days starting today to sign the measure sent toBack to Year 2000 Index Page him by Congress yesterday.

Using digital signature technology, congressional leaders electronically signed the measure and sent it to the White House by email--marking the first time legislation has been signed over to the President without the use of paper or ink.

Getting the bill to the White House came weeks after originally planned. According to Senate staffers, Republican leaders had trouble gathering the supporting members of Congress for the signing ceremony as many had left for a Fourth of July break, which ended Sunday.

Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), who played a key role in finding compromise between Democrats and Republicans on the bill, yesterday praised his colleagues for passing the controversial measure.

"Thanks to a bipartisan effort, we were able to pass legislation which encourages people to fix their Y2K problems, rather than fight them in court," Dodd said in a statement.

The country has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth in the past decade, growth in large part due to the technology revolution, the Connecticut senator added. "But if we want to keep reaping the benefits of this revolution, we have to sow the seeds--the resources--we dedicate to that growth. The Y2K Act means resources can be dedicated towards fixing Y2K problems and fostering innovation, not diverted towards fighting frivolous lawsuits."

Signing the measure--a combination of House bill HR 775 and the Senate's Y2K Act--into law would bring to an end a lengthy stalemate over how to limit a potential flood of litigation arising from Y2K problems, which by some estimates could cost $1 trillion and cripple the economy. Republicans pressed by high tech and business interests have supported the bill, but Democrats, backed by trial lawyers and consumer protection groups, have argued that the measure is too lenient on businesses.

As reported earlier, the Y2K Act aims to put a check on lawsuits by providing disputing parties with a 90-day "cooling-off" period to mitigate their grievances out of court. The measure would also set some caps on punitive damages for small businesses and protect government entities including municipalities, school, fire, water, and sanitation districts from punitive damages. The bill further aims to protect those not directly involved in a Year 2000 bug failure.

The measure aims to make it harder to file year 2000-related class-action lawsuits. In addition, the two sides agreed to increase the monetary threshold for class-action lawsuits from $1 million to $10 million before a case can be moved to federal court.

The legislation also adds some consumer protection language that says in most cases a defendant is liable only for that proportion of the damage he or she may cause. The measure ensures, for example, that consumers can get full benefits in cases of bad faith.

The Year 2000 problem, also known as the millennium bug, stems from an old programming shortcut that used only the last two digits of the year. Many computers now must be modified, or they may mistake the year 2000 for the year 1900 and may not be able to function at all.