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Senators Hold 'Y2K Day'

An important measure was passed Tuesday, during the Senate "Y2K Day". It was a day set aside to focus on ways to help small businesses cope with Year 2000 computer crashes, while a special Senate panel released its Y2K report.

The "Y2K Day" was meant to inform people about the potential computer problems that could arise at the turn of the millenium.

The Senate voted 99-0 Tuesday on a measure sponsored by Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., that would require the Small Business Administration to guarantee loans for businesses trying to fix their own computers or Y2K problems of their suppliers, customers or financial institutions that put them at risk.

The future of the measure is still uncertain because the legislation still has to pass in the House before it becomes law. "The outlook is not good," Bond said. "Many small companies have not yet begun to realize how much of a problem Y2K failures could be for them."

Under the legislation, the SBA is expected to guarantee about $500 million in loans through the end of the program on Dec. 31, 2000.
Studies have concluded that up to 750,000 small businesses could be severely hurt or be forced to shut down because of the glitch.

The Y2K issue affects computers that can't differentiate between the year 2000 and the year 1900. In such machines years are only indicated by their last 2 digits, so 1900 and 2000 looks exactly the same to them.

The authors of the special Senate panel report, Sens. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., wrote in a letter to their colleagues last week that all sectors of the economy "are at risk, including public utilities, health care, telecommunications, transportation, banking and finance, commerce and small business and national security."

One major concern, the report says, is that 90 percent of doctors haven't fixed their computers and could temporarily lose medical records and smaller hospitals may not be fully prepared for possible shutdowns in medical devices such as dialysis machines.

Representatives of the food industry brought good news, however, assuring that they would have adequate food supplies on Jan. 1.

Michael Heschel of The Kroger Co. said the supermarket chain usually has 35-36 days of inventory in its stores and "we believe, therefore, unless there is widespread hoarding or excessive stockpiling, Jan. 1, 2000, will be a routine shopping day."

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday took up a more controversial bill, a measure sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which would limit lawsuits arising from Y2K breakdowns.

The bill has strong backing from the business community, which warns that Y2K problems could result in up to $1 trillion in lawsuits. But the administration, backed by trial lawyers, has blocked all previous efforts by the GOP-led Congress to reduce punitive damages in product liability cases.