IT Bills Start Race to September

IT Bills Start Race to September<@VM>Some Acts Get Flack <@VM>My Bill Is Better Than Your Bill...

Sen. John McCain

By David Silverberg, Contributing Writer

With the impeachment mess over and the legislative season in full swing, numerous IT-related measures are moving through the congressional pipeline. The questions are: How will they fare, and how many are likely to make it into law come September?

Certainly off to a fast start is the Security and Freedom through Encryption Act, HR 850, sponsored by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va. The bill, which guarantees the use of encryption as part of the right to privacy, passed the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on courts and intellectual property March 11 without a single revision. It now has 210 sponsors, up five since its introduction. It has also been referred to the International Relations Committee, which has not yet scheduled a hearing date.

In the Senate, the Children's Internet Protection Act, introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is running into opposition from civil liberties groups and some librarians. The act requires that schools and libraries benefiting from the E-rate, funds for education provided by telecommunications companies, be required to install and use filtering software on computers used by minors. The local school or library board would determine the exact parameters of the filtering.

Sen. Spencer Abraham

At Senate Commerce Committee hearings March 4, McCain brought together supporters and critics who fell into fairly predictable camps. Conservative groups, such as the National Law Center for Children and Families and the American Center for Law and Justice, supported the bill, while People for the American Way opposed it. The American Civil Liberties Union went on record against it, although its representatives did not testify at the time.

The sole librarian present, Candace Morgan, who is associate director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library in Vancouver, Wash., opposed it, arguing that it would hamper local autonomy.

"It's not just that one solution doesn't fit all communities," she said. "It's also that a federal mandate on a matter so closely tied to local norms and values is, in my view, counterproductive and even harmful."

From an industry standpoint, the bill would benefit software filtering companies. Two industry representatives were on hand to make the case for filtering software capabilities: Gordon Ross, president and CEO of Net Nanny Software International Inc.; and Adrian Russell-Falla, founder and chairman of RulesSpace Inc.

The hearing was a good snapshot of the passionate nature of the debate and deep divisions involved in finding a solution. Given the First Amendment and privacy questions raised by the legislation, this one looks like it's going to have rough sledding.

More likely to have an easier time is the New Millennium Classrooms Act, which was introduced on March 4 by Sens. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. It would enhance the tax credits for companies donating computer hardware to schools and educational institutions. While there already are tax credits to make these kinds of donations, "the current tax deduction fails to provide enough incentives," said Abraham. The earlier legislation with the credits, the Taxpayers Relief Act of 1997, has not produced much in the way of donations. The new legislation aims to sweeten the pot and result in more donations.

Specifically, the new act would:

•Allow a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the fair market value of donated equipment.

• Expand the age limit of donated equipment to include equipment three years old or less. Currently, the limit is two years, and numerous companies do not update their equipment within the time frame. The hope is that by expanding the eligibility period, schools will get relatively current hardware, and more companies will make donations.

•Expand the scope of the donors eligible to receive the equipment. Currently, only the original user of the equipment is eligible to receive a credit. The new bill makes companies that reacquire the equipment eligible for the tax credit as well, expanding the number of potential donors.

•If equipment is donated to empowerment zones, enterprise communities or Indian reservations, the tax credits go up to 50 percent of the equipment's fair market value.

At its introduction, the bill had nine co-sponsors and had been endorsed by the Information Technology Industry Council and the National Association of Manufacturers.
The legislation that is truly urgent, addressing Y2K liability issues, is the subject of political one-upsmanship. McCain, who is a likely presidential candidate in 2000, got off to a fast start Jan. 19 by introducing his S 96, Y2K Act, and is claiming that the Commerce Committee, which he chairs, has jurisdiction over the issue.

His committee already has held its hearings, the bill has been substantially revised, and it is on the Senate's calendar, although a specific date for action has not been set.

But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, feels that Y2K liability issues properly belong in his bailiwick. Hatch has introduced a version of a bill he first proposed last year — S 461, The Year 2000 Fairness and Responsibility Act — that he termed "the next generation" in Y2K legislation. That bill had its hearing before the Judiciary Committee March 1.

Whether the two legislators can move their respective legislation through the process before Y2K actually rolls around will make for an interesting legislative horse race.

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