Dangerous Y2K veto

Glendening: He acted rashly in killing bill to give businesses limited protection from computer glitches.

May 22, 1999

HAS Gov. Parris N. Glendening opened the floodgates for lawsuits against Maryland businesses should there be computer foul-ups at the end of this year?

The governor says no, he was just being cautious in vetoing a bill giving limited protection from such litigation to companies that act early to avert Year 2000 (Y2K) computer problems. He said consumers' legal rights were being trampled upon.

We disagree, as did an overwhelming majority of the Maryland General Assembly. The bill he vetoed wasn't nearly as "radical" as the governor alleged. It would have given businesses a small umbrella to fend off a potential storm of lawsuits if computers break down Jan. 1.

To gain this limited protection, companies would have been required to take extensive steps with their computer systems -- especially critical ones -- to make the switch from '99 to '00 without a hitch. This would have included identifying and assessing potential problems, testing systems, coming up with remedial solutions and devising contingency plans.

Mr. Glendening chose to ignore the careful preparation called for in the bill. Instead, he suggested three worst-case situations -- all of which still could have been litigated -- to justify his veto.

While the governor's action may have pleased some consumer groups and trial lawyers, it alarmed business leaders. The vetoed bill would have outlined a "to do" list for companies wishing to gain limited legal protection.

The veto sends a message to corporate leaders that Mr. Glendening remains deeply suspicious of them. This has renewed talk of Maryland's anti-business climate that could hurt economic development efforts.

The bill vetoed by the governor would not have stopped all lawsuits involving Y2K foul-ups. But now that the governor has overridden the legislature's judgment, businesses have no legal protection if anything goes wrong that can be tied -- however remotely -- to a Y2K computer flaw.

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