Will Tech Issues Be Last in Line?
Members of Congress back in Washington this week, fresh from their Easter recess, face a host of pressing technology issues that deserve immediate attention.
The list includes legislation that would establish a moratorium on new taxes on Internet commerce, a measure to raise the cap on foreign workers that are granted temporary worker visas, and a bill to strengthen international copyright law.
Many seasoned observers expect these and other hot-button issues mired in complexities - such as encryption and privacy protection - to be shelved by lawmakers preoccupied with the fight over tobacco legislation and yes, partisan politics as usual. (Does the name Kenneth Starr mean anything to anybody?)
After all, it is an election year and one quick look at the working congressional calendar shows that lawmakers will be heading home again soon. Lawmakers are expected to remain in Washington until the end of July (with week-long breaks around Memorial Day and July 4). After their August recess, members of Congress are expected to return in September and work through the first week of October.
But there are some positive signs. The debate has resumed over proposals to increase the number of temporary skilled worker visas to help the roiling high-tech industry meet nationwide worker shortages. Earlier this week, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, convened a hearing on immigration and the American work force in the 21st century. The session generated testimony on such proposals and shone a spotlight on the need for retraining of American workers.
Smith's staffers predict markup of legislation he is sponsoring to raise the cap to 90,000 visas will occur next week with a vote by the full House possibly as early as late May. Things are also moving along nicely on the Senate side, where a bill sponsored by Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., to raise the cap to 95,000 visas cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
And action on the World Intellectual Property Organization Treaties Implementation Act (HR 2281 and S 1121) also appears likely.
With the high-tech industry continuing to dazzle Wall Street and investors alike, the Dow Jones Industrials trotting past the 9100 mark, continuing reports of spiraling salaries in the sector, and the growing influence of technology nationwide, it becomes harder and harder to ignore the harsh reality that technology, and technology policy, matters.