GOP seeks special session to override veto of bill to provide year 2000 protections

Not enough votes to act, Miller, Taylor say

June 04, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Republican members of the House of Delegates called yesterday for a special session of the General Assembly to override Gov. Parris N. Glendening's veto of a bill that would give legal protections to businesses whose computers fail because of year 2000 problems.

The House Republicans said the bill would have given important protections to companies, particularly small businesses, that don't have the ability to prepare for possible problems.

"The legislature and the governor have dropped the ball," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan of Howard County, the House minority whip. "The only people who stand to benefit from the current situation are the trial lawyers."

In announcing his veto last month, the governor said the measure was too broad and would have blocked lawsuits even in cases in which a millennium-ending computer failure caused personal injury or death.

The Democratic speaker of the House and the president of the Senate, whose agreement is required for a special session to be called, dismissed the Republicans' idea yesterday, saying it would be impossible to find the three-fifths majority in both houses necessary for an override.

The bill squeaked through the 47-member Senate with 25 votes, short of the 29 needed to override a veto.

`Raw partisan politics'

"There's certainly no sentiment to call a special session to override the governor's veto," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat. "This is raw partisan politics. The Republicans know there's not enough votes to override the veto."

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who sponsored the legislation, said he would favor a move to override the veto but that a special session would be useless.

"You don't have a special session on any issue unless and until you are sure that you have the votes," said Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat. "Otherwise, it's a waste of time and effort and taxpayers' dollars."

The vetoed legislation was designed to address a concern that the year 2000 problem, which could leave many computers unable to distinguish the year 2000 from the year 1900 -- might lead to widespread system failures and lawsuits.

The bill would have allowed companies to defend themselves in millennium-related lawsuits by making "good faith" efforts to remedy any computer problems. About half of the states have passed legislation to provide legal protection to companies in the event of such problems.

The Republicans said a special session is necessary to deal with the issue before the end of the year. The General Assembly is not scheduled to go into session until mid-January.

A news release issued by the Republican caucus said the special session should be called to consider an override, but delegates at the news conference struck a more conciliatory note.

"We're not demanding an override here," said Flanagan. "We are open to addressing the governor's concerns and enacting a new bill."

Six delegates, no senators

The sparsely attended news conference brought out six Republican delegates but no senators. House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman of Howard County said the Senate Republicans are "not ready to join us." Kittleman and other Republicans contended that the special session could wrap up its work in one day.

A spokesman for Glendening said yesterday that the governor will not use his constitutional power to call the Assembly into session to pass a different bill. That decision should be left to the Assembly's presiding officers, said spokesman Ray Feldmann.

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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