WASHINGTON—The Senate has passed a Year 2000 liability reform bill with a 62-37 majority—enough to squelch any possible filibusters when the conference report comes to a vote, but not enough to override a possible presidential veto. A 90-day grace period for notification and correction of Y2K-related problems is the main feature of the bill approved June 15. If those problems are not corrected in that time, litigation can commence.
The bill also limits joint-and-several liability—which makes all defendants liable for all damages, not just their own share—as well as reducing punitive damages for companies with 50 or fewer employees. Its provisions expire on Jan. 1, 2003.
``This legislation will not harm the rights of small businesses or consumers,'' said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chief sponsor of the bill. ``It only destroys the ability of trial lawyers to recruit plaintiffs with no injuries to extort settlements from companies held hostage to defending against a tidal wave of litigation.''
The day before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., predicted the Y2K bill would pass with flying colors.
``This is not something we can do next year—the time to do it is now,'' said Mr. Lott, who also condemned attempts by Senate Democrats ``to obstruct or gut this bill.''
Twelve Democrats ended up voting for the bill, three of whom—Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Dianne Feinstein of California—took leading roles in its passage.
Sen. McCain's original legislation was ``a non-starter'' in the eyes of all Democrats, but several major changes—most of them suggested by the White House—have made it a good bill, according to Mr. Wyden.
``It's tremendously important now that the administration negotiates with us in good faith,'' Mr. Wyden said regarding White House veto threats. ``We have to get this legislation passed.''
Passage of the McCain bill was hailed as a victory by industry groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, while the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which opposes the bill, pointed out the non-veto-proof victory margin was good news for them.
Officials of the Rubber Manufacturers Association and the Tire Association of North America couldn't be reached for comment.
The House passed a similar bill; now both bodies must go into conference to resolve their differences.