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Silicon Valley Has a Good Day on Capitol Hill

Congress: Lawmakers revive plan to ease immigration, back limits on shareholder suits.

October 14, 1998|JUBE SHIVER Jr. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Signaling Silicon Valley's new clout on Capitol Hill, a measure that would let thousands more highly skilled foreign workers enter the United States has been revived in Congress less than a week after several lawmakers killed it.

The eleventh-hour reprieve for the immigration measure came as Congress handed the high-tech industry another important legislative victory Tuesday by making it tougher to file class-action securities lawsuits.

Budget negotiators agreed to resuscitate the controversial immigration measure and include it in a final government spending package that both houses of Congress are racing to wrap up before week's end, under prodding from tech industry lobbyists, Judiciary immigration subcommittee Chairman Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) and the White House.

The measure, which lifts the current cap on temporary visas for highly skilled foreigners--allowing as many as 142,500 more of them into the United States over the next three years--could still be derailed. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) thought he had accomplished just that when he blocked the bill Friday after being incensed by the recent flurry of layoffs announced by several high-tech companies.

But supporters were confident Tuesday that negotiators would fend off any new assault on the measure. President Clinton has indicated he will now support the compromise proposal.

"I commend the Republican leadership and budget negotiators for including this important legislation. . . . This is a big victory for the economy, which is being fueled in part by our high-tech industries," Abraham said.

In the industry's other big victory, the House approved the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act, a reform measure aimed at curbing shareholder lawsuits. The measure had earlier cleared the Senate and will now be sent to the president.

The act establishes a uniform national standard for class-action securities lawsuits and requires that such suits be filed in federal courts.

The high-tech industry had complained that securities lawsuits were flooding state courts--particularly in California--forcing companies to direct resources to costly litigation rather than developing new technology.

"We strongly supported this bill. It will discourage people from bringing frivolous lawsuits," said J. Thomas Higginbotham, vice president of congressional affairs for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Several technology industry lobbyists hailed Tuesday's decisions as emblems of the industry's clout on Capitol Hill.

"Right now, we are like the Atlanta Braves," said Marc Pearl, general counsel for the Information Technology Assn. of America, referring to the World Series hopefuls. "We have tremendous potential and a lot of strong support on the Hill for the information technology agenda."

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