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TIME IS RUNNING out for businesses to eliminate problems caused by the Millennium Bug, and time also is slipping away for lawmakers to act on proposals that would make it easier to solve the problem.
Unfortunately, there is a small window of opportunity to get such legislation enacted, and lawmakers do not appear to be in a rush to do anything before it is too late. Both the White House and congressmen are talking a good game, but without any push from business they are unlikely to make the legislation a priority in the 105th Congress.
As we have reported, President Clinton has proposed a bill that would provide immunity from liability for statements made in good faith that ultimately turn out to be inaccurate. The measure is intended to promote the exchange of information among businesses and organizations at risk of the Year 2000 problem without fear of running afoul of antitrust laws or being exposed to liability for efforts to help others.
In addition, Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., has introduced legislation that would limit the liability of virtually any party involved in the manufacture or use of computer software and hardware that might be affected by the computer problem, provided they made solutions available to customers to limit their losses.
In introducing his proposal, Rep. Dreier disparaged the White House proposal as a "pop-gun response to this potentially immense problem." While the president's proposal may not be as sweeping as the congressman's measure, we think such rhetoric is hardly productive to enacting legislation that would help business solve the problem.
In fact, we do not see the two proposals as mutually exclusive and wonder why conferees cannot craft legislation that would adopt elements of both proposals.
The president's proposal is aimed at encouraging the sharing of information about possible solutions to the Year 2000 problem. That exchange of information could prove crucial to adopting solutions before the clock winds down. It also could prove useful in assuring all of a company's vendors are compliant by encouraging organizations to share potential fixes with their vendors.
Rep. Dreier's proposal focuses more on minimizing liability after the fact, though it also provides antitrust protection for companies that share information to fix or mitigate the problem. It would limit immunity for companies that made a good-faith effort to stem the problem by offering replacement products to buyers and giving customers formal notice that a product could fail because of the Y2K bug. The measure also would require that manufacturers and other vendors replace software or hardware products introduced on or after Jan. 1, 1995, for free to qualify for the limited immunity. The bill does not shield from liability companies that negligently ignore the problem despite all the notoriety surrounding the exposure.
If businesses wish to help others -- or be helped themselves -- in eliminating the risk of losses from the Millennium Bug, these proposals deserve their support. Without business backing, this window of opportunity to lick the problem will be shut for good.