from the front line: The State of Y2K

As part of the recent merger of our organization with one of the largest purchasing groups in the country, I was required to have our Y2K compliance ‘certified.’ EDS was given the contract for this work effort, and we subsequently received our readiness certification. It was explained to our management that this audit would be very beneficial should we be involved in litigation with one of our e-commerce trading partners.

I have, however, discovered a much less costly way to defend ourselves from lawsuits. Follow the lead of 37 of our country's states. This represents the number of states that have passed or are considering passing legislation that would provide varying degrees of immunity from lawsuits for damages or problems related to Y2K issues.

There appear to be an even mix of opinions as to whether the passing of this type of legislation is beneficial to the state and taxpayer, or whether this type of action will result in the slowdown of Y2K programming efforts. As of March 1, 1999, six states have Y2K immunity laws. These include: Nevada, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and Virginia. Thirty-two more states are currently considering enacting some form of protection.

Being a Hoosier, i.e. residing in Indiana, I contacted Bill Pierce, the Director of Indiana’s Y2K Office. Bill informed me that Indiana senators have already voted to give state and local governments immunity from Y2K lawsuits, and that the state house of representatives is also expected to pass these bills.

Bill informed me that their office, founded in July of 1996, acts as the focal point for 45 state agencies. Their main focus is to coordinate the activities of the state relative to all Y2K issues. The good news for Indiana is that almost all of the remediation work has been completed, and that final testing of all state systems should be completed by mid-summer this year.

Bill's office is also responsible for obtaining an inventory of all imbedded chips and systems, used in controlling elevators, access to buildings, etc., then contacting the system manufacturer, determining the chipsY2K compliance, and reporting back to the individual state agencies.

As with any national issue, there are always pro and con opinions.

The pro immunity forces apparently feel that the state taxpayer should not bear the burden of defending frivolous lawsuits, while the con forces say that reasonable jurors would reject any lawsuit that appeared to be frivolous. There are also those who have taken a middle-of-the-road position, and believe that limited immunity should be granted to those government agencies willing to share information relative to their Y2K bug fixing.

The U.S. Congress passed such a bill last year, as did California. Maryland is also considering protection of both governments and businesses, if they can show they have made a reasonable attempt to become compliant.

The states that currently have no immunity bills pending include: Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia.

If you are doing business with any of the states that have immunity statues, it may be well worth while to verify the ‘state’ of their Y2K compliance.

Bob Lewis is VP of IT at the FoodService Purchasing Cooperative Inc. (Louisville, Ky.). He can be reached at bob_lewis@fspc.com.