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Partisanship kills US e-signatures bill

Lawmaking as election campaigning...again

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The US House of Representatives failed to pass a bill which would have given legal weight to electronic signatures, primarily due to party posturing in anticipation of the 2000 elections. Democrats were particularly loath to support the bill in the face of criticism that it could undermine consumer protections by enabling strictly electronic contract disclosures from vendors. In practice, such concerns could be addressed by requiring both email and snail mail notice of contractual terms, alterations, and warranty recall advisories. But no one wishes to enter the election season with so much as the appearance that they might be less than vigilant in defending consumers against exploitation by mendacious Capitalist hustlers. And of course by distancing themselves now, Congressional Democrats can accuse their Republican opponents of collaborating with Big Business when they hit the campaign trail. The White House, too, stepped away, almost certainly for the same reason, but on the novel pretext that the bill would usurp states' rights to govern commerce within their own borders. "The bill being considered by the House would preempt state laws unnecessarily, both in degree and duration," the White House said via a prepared statement. This may be an historic moment, marking the first time the Clinton Administration has acted in favour of states' rights. But then again, perhaps not, as political ammunition, innuendo and "spin" have always been the Administration's most finely-crafted and successful products. Had the bill passed, it would have gone to Conference Committee for reconciliation with a Senate version, and might possibly have issued forth from 106th Congress as law before the Winter recess. It will now be for the 107th to take up in the more sober political environment afforded by two years' distance from the next election cycle. ®

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