Glendening wants Y2K bills amended

Protect plaintiff rights or face veto, he says

Liability

April 03, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening warned lawmakers yesterday that he might veto bills aimed at protecting local governments and businesses from lawsuits over Year 2000-related computer glitches if the bills aren't changed to protect plaintiffs' rights.

The bills are designed to shield companies, counties and municipalities from liability for mistakes made in their attempts to fix their computers to eliminate the Year 2000 computer bug.

Business groups have lobbied for a bill that would make it harder for plaintiffs to win such cases. The Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League are seeking a separate bill that would grant them broader immunity against such lawsuits.

The bills address a concern that the pervasive Year 2000 problem, in which many computers are unable to distinguish the year 2000 from the year 1900, will lead to widespread system failures and lawsuits.

The governor said in two letters that he could not support the bills unless they are amended to exempt cases involving wrongful death or personal injury.

Glendening also said he wants legislators to amend the bill protecting businesses to exempt lawsuits brought by consumers.

The letters, to Prince George's Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the two House bills are a "vast improvement" over the legislation passed by the Senate. But the governor said the House amendments do not go far enough.

Different versions of the bills have passed the House and the Senate. But there are still opportunities to amend the bills in either chamber or in a conference committee.

Mike Morrill, the governor's communications director, said he believes there's still time in the 90-day session to make the changes the governor is demanding. Morrill said the administration is raising objections so close to the end of the session because it has only recently begun to understand the bills' legal ramifications.

"The bottom line is, he wants to make sure that if someone's actually injured because of negligence that this doesn't provide an out," Morrill said.

He said Glendening does not object to provisions of the business bill protecting companies against suits brought by other companies.

Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, who introduced one of several bills on the topic, said the governor's objections were not a surprise to him and that he hopes the dispute can be resolved before the end of the session April 12.

"This is the kind of bill you have to do this year. It's the only bill you can't put off," the Montgomery County Republican said.

D. Robert Enten, a lobbyist for the Maryland Bakers Association, said the business protection legislation was a moderate bill that simply directs judges to take into account a company's efforts to fix the problem before deciding whether it is liable.

"This is in no way, shape or form an immunity bill," Enten said.

Pub Date: 4/03/99

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