CNET News ~ Congress pushes tech bills
15 Oct 98 11:18:21 +1100
FYI, a story from CNET News this morning.
Congress pushes tech bills
By CNET News.com Staff
October 14, 1998, 1:00 p.m. PT
roundup In the final hours of Congress's session,
lawmakers are trying to slam through bills governing
Net content for minors, skilled foreign worker visas,
and shareholder lawsuits, among others.
Tech bills face 11th-hour rush
By Courtney Macavinta Staff Writer,
CNET News.com October 14, 1998, 1 p.m. PT
Congress is attempting to keep the government funded this fiscal year and
pass a handful of new Net regulations--all before the clock strikes
For high-tech executives--who can be out of the Capitol Hill loop but are no
strangers to tough negotiating tactics--the past few days should have
provided a crash course on the last-minute political wrangling that goes on
when lawmakers have to wrap up the legislative session so they can stump for
With impeachment hearings looming, the allegations against President Clinton
have left not only critical legislation hanging in the balance as the clock
runs out, but the nation's leader as well.
Despite the chaos, Congress tries to make time for everyone. And legislators
are scrambling now to pass regulations that will hit home with the online
industry and Net users alike.
>From limiting taxation on Net access and services to prohibiting Web sites
from giving minors access to adult-oriented material, a variety of proposals
are expected to be tacked on to a massive federal appropriations package
that Congress must pass by midnight--its current deadline to adjourn.
Online content restrictions As reported yesterday, a controversial provision
could be added to the omnibus spending bill that would make it a crime for
commercial Web sites to give minors access to "harmful material."
Called the "Communications Decency Act II" by opponents, the legislation
differs in the Senate and House versions. But both Sen. Dan Coats's
(R-Indiana) bill and Rep. Mike Oxley's (R-Ohio) Child Online Protection Act
would require site operators who offer "harmful" material to check visitors'
identifications or face up to _50,000 in fines and six months in prison.
Although the Clinton administration and civil liberties advocates question
the constitutionality of the bills, proponents have been working just about
every angle to get one of them passed.
Net tax time-out Another embattled bill that could piggyback the spending
bill is the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which sets up a national three-year
moratorium on "discriminatory" taxes on Net access and services. The Senate
and House versions of the bill preserve taxes enacted before October and
March of this year, respectively.
The Net tax bill also includes another Coats proposal, one to exempt
commercial sites from the tax break if they give minors unfettered access to
"harmful" material, and online privacy protections for children under 12.
Foreign high-tech workers Finally, the computer industry is hoping to see
one last proposal passed as part of the huge appropriations bill--Rep. Lamar
Smith's (R-Texas) Workforce Improvement and Protection Act, which would
almost double the number of highly skilled technology workers allowed into
the country each year.
The White House now supports Smith's legislation, which was affixed to the
omnibus spending bill yesterday. The bill would boost the number of H1-B
visas for technical and well-educated workers from 65,000 to 115,000 for
1999 and 2000 and return it to the current level by 2002. However, a select
number of high-tech companies that hire many H1-B employees will be subject
to increased Labor Department monitoring.
The bills impose stiffer penalties for firing an American worker in favor of
an H1-B visa holder, and for paying foreign workers lower wages than their
Clinton is expected to sign the following bills, which passed Congress this
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, cleared Monday, would impose new
safeguards for software, music, and written works on the Net, and would
outlaw technologies that can crack copyright protection devices. One
provision would require Webcasters--such as the budding group of Net radio
stations--to pay licensing fees to record companies, which could take a
large chunk out of their gross revenues.
The Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act, passed yesterday, would
limit lawsuits against companies with volatile stock prices by requiring
class-action shareholder suits brought against companies for failed earnings
to be filed in federal court. Proponents say the statute will protect the
slew of public high-tech start-ups from being sued in every state, arguing
that such suits have the potential to stifle the growing computer industry.
The Child Protection and Sexual Predator Punishment Act applies stiff
penalties for using the Net to sexually solicit minors or knowingly send
"obscene" material to a person under 16. Violators could get up to five and
ten years in prison, respectively, for the offenses.
The bill also sticks Net access providers with new liabilities for failing
to report child pornography once they are made aware of the illegal
material. ISPs could be fined up to _50,000 the first time they fail to
report the activity and up to _100,000 for each subsequent time they don't
contact law enforcement authorities.
Civil liberties groups say the ISP penalties could force providers to police
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