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Tech Industry

Y2K bill makes way to White House

Though it's a few weeks later than anticipated, the bill that would limit lawsuits arising from the Year 2000 problem is expected to be on the President's desk within the next few days.

Though it's a few weeks later than anticipated, the bill that would limit lawsuits arising from the Year 2000 technology problem is expected to be on the President's desk for signing within the next few days.

Senate staffers tell CNET that Senate Republican leaders had trouble gathering the appropriate members of Congress who backed the measure for the signing ceremony because many had left for a Fourth of July break, which ended Sunday. A ceremony is now being planned for Thursday.

Back to Year 2000 Index Page The ceremony marks the "enrollment" of the measure as a bill approved by both houses of Congress. Once enrolled, the bill will be sent to the White House for the President to sign into law. The President, by law, has 10 days to sign the legislation.

"We were looking forward to having the bill enrolled before the recess," said Mark Pearl, general council and senior vice president for the Information Technology Association of America. "We're down to 172 days until 2000. If we want to send a message that there is still some time to get Y2K work done, we need to have it signed sooner rather than later."

Signing the measure 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 the Democrats backed by trial lawyers and consumer protection groups have argued that it lets businesses off the hook.

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 also would 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 final compromise also adds some consumer protection language that says in most cases a defendant is liable only for that proportion of the damage he causes. 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.