BI’s Article search uses Boolean search capabilities. If you are not familiar with these principles, here are some quick tips.

To search specifically for more than one word, put the search term in quotation marks. For example, “workers compensation”. This will limit your search to that combination of words.

To search for a combination of terms, use quotations and the & symbol. For example, “hurricane” & “loss”.

Login Register Subscribe



WASHINGTON -- Only swift congressional action can save a bill meant to encourage businesses to swap information on how to deal with the Year 2000 computer problem.

The measure -- S. 2392, the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act -- won the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week after often-acrimonious debate over an amendment designed to narrow the measure's protections for businesses. The argument over the amendment could mean further controversy on the floor of the Senate. The House appears unlikely to move on the measure before the Senate makes its final judgment.

Supporters point to the rapidly dwindling number of days left in the current Congress as reason for pushing the bill forward. If Congress does not pass the bill within the next four weeks, the measure will die until the new Congress convenes in 1999.

The bill is a compromise worked out between Senate leaders and the White House. It would grant businesses a temporary exemption from antitrust actions if they share information regarding how they are fixing the Year 2000 problem. Under the bill, businesses also would enjoy temporary relief from liability by being allowed to disclose their Year 2000 readiness without fear that the information would be used against them in Year 2000 problem-related suits. They would not, however, enjoy liability relief from suits involving Year 2000 problem-related software or hardware failures. In addition, all the limited liability relief would expire in July 2001.

Senator after senator cited the need to deal with the problem as quickly as possible as the Judiciary Committee took up the bill. "We have only five weeks left in the Senate session. We're not going to pass this unless we have consensus," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

That consensus looked threatened after Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., offered the sole amendment of the day. The amendment sought to exclude statements made for the purpose of soliciting or discouraging sales of Year 2000 solutions from the liability protection it offered other statements.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah -- who with Sens. Leahy and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. sponsored the compromise bill -- said the Thompson amendment would have a "chilling effect" on information sharing and was unnecessary. He called the amendment "overly broad."

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., launched into a heated defense of the Thompson amendment. At one point, he shouted at Sen. Kyl, "I don't understand what you're saying," to which the Arizona lawmaker replied, "Well, give me a chance to say it."

The debate ended when Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., said that while he believed that the right to bring a liability suit was part of the way to make a market function more effectively to improve products, in this case he would vote for the bill without the Thompson amendment. The consequences of not doing so are "so enormous" that they justify changing the liability standard temporarily, he said.

The Thompson amendment was defeated and the measure passed out of committee.

"This bill is not perfect, but it's the best we could come up with under the circumstances, and it's a pretty darn good bill under the circumstances," said Sen. Hatch.

Supporters of the bill remained guardedly optimistic that Congress will approve it in the few legislative days remaining.

"Sen. Torricelli's statement basically wraps it up. Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary solutions," said Melissa Shelk, assistant vp-federal affairs with the American Insurance Assn. in Washington.

Jan Amundson, general counsel for the National Assn. of Manufacturers, said: "As it was pointed out today, time is of the essence. I refuse to give up hope."

"It represents a compromise that a lot of people worked very hard on over the recess. The House is watching what the Senate is doing. We need to keep support of the bill intact," she said.

Anne Allen, director-government affairs for the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. in New York, said the bill is "a step in the right direction. Some of the people I've talked to about this problem said, 'We want to approach this problem, but how do we know where our responsibility ends?' So this will encourage more information-sharing between businesses. It could help develop a 'best practices' for dealing with Y2K compliance."

Ms. Allen added, however, that RIMS remains concerned about the timing and the narrowness of liability relief.