House Approves Y2K Bill; Spotlight Moves To Senate

In a bipartisan 236-190 vote, the House on May 12 passed the business-supported Year 2000 Readiness and Responsibility Act, which would limit companies' liability for Y2K-related computer failures. Passage of the measure, hailed by U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue as "the most significant piece of legislation to pass the House this year," puts pressure on the Senate to take action on a companion bill, which is stalled. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R, Miss.) says he won't call the measure up for a vote until he is certain it has enough votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster and a promised veto by President Clinton. The House-passed version would cap punitive damages against companies at $250,000 or three times the financial damages, whichever is greater. Among other provisions, the bill would restrict class-action lawsuits, give corporate officials some protection from liability, allow firms 90 days to fix Y2K problems before they could be sued, and make defendants liable for only their proportionate share of the fault. "The Y2K bill will let companies pay attention to the Y2K problem without having to worry about frivolous litigation," observes Donohue. "It is a major victory for business." Adds William T. Archey, president and CEO of the American Electronics Assn., a Washington trade association of the high-tech industry: "This legislation provides the necessary legal framework that employs balance and reason with a shared responsibility to remedy any problems that may occur."

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