Clinton Y2K Signing Delay Could Gore Al's Campaign : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Even if President Clinton does not sign the Year 2000 liability bill okayed by Congress on Thursday, the legislation will become law unless he specifically vetoes it. Nevertheless, one legal expert believes that if Clinton waits too long to sign the bill, the fall out from measure will eat into Vice President Al Gore's 2000 election campaign success.

The bill, which the House approved in a 404-24 vote, and the Senate approved in an 81-18 vote on Thursday, is expected to arrive at the White House today as Congress leaves for its July 4th recess.

Once the White House receives the bill, Clinton will have 10 days in which he can sign the bill into law. He is expected to approve the legislation, though a veto cannot be considered safely out of the question until he does something else.

If he neither signs nor vetoes the bill, Unice Lieberman, a spokeswoman for Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., told Newsbytes, it will become law within 10 days even without his signature.

"But he will sign it," Lieberman said.

But if Clinton signals the continuing White House reticence with the bill - despite Chief of Staff John Podesta's announcement that the president grudgingly accepts its terms - Clinton will risk souring the high-tech industry's opinion of the Democratic party by delaying the official signing, said Claude Stern, an attorney with Fenwick & West LLP.

"The fact that the White House has taken as long as it has... is playing into the hands of Republicans right now," said Stern. "...A lot of Silicon Valley leaders who were very significant and vocal proponents of the legislation are very disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm the White House has displayed for this sort of measure."

"I think the longer the president waits, the more he's going to hurt Gore's campaign," Stern added.

The bill employs a variety of methods to lessen the amount of Year 2000-related lawsuits by encouraging alternative dispute resolution, putting limits on damage caps on small business defendants, assigning proportionate liability to multiple defendants, and raising the money and class size amount on class action suits to $10 million and 100 people before allowing those cases to enter federal court.

The bill also requires plaintiffs to wait 90 days before filing lawsuits, notify potential defendants of Year 2000 breakdowns within 30 days, and offer 60 days for the defendant to make amends.

The bill's supporters say it protects small businesses and the court system, both of which could be crushed by a surfeit of Year 2000 cases - some of which already are being filed.

Opponents say that it hurt small business plaintiffs, and that it rewrites state tort laws. The bill's proponents counter that it only is legal for 36 months from the date of signing, and that anyone trying to stop the bill likely is a mouthpiece for trial lawyers who see a potentially lucrative legal market drying up in front of their eyes.

Stern said that any delays the president may make in signing the bill will not encourage more lawsuits because the legislation's language covers all lawsuits filed after Jan. 1, 1999.

Stern added, however, that the mere presence of the bill "gives motivation to file scurrilous lawsuits before the legislation is enacted... Wouldn't it be ironic that a piece of legislation intended to stymie lawsuits would provoke them?"

Newsbytes notes that Fenwick & West is defending several electronics manufacturers who were cross-sued by a group of retailing chains that themselves were sued by a California man claiming that they intentionally were selling Year 2000 non-compliant products without notifying customers.

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14:35 CST


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