July 02, 2001, 3:41 PM — This past Sunday was the day opponents of the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA) had been dreading for a long time: On July 1, UCITA was formally enacted as law in Virginia. Now that the day has passed, however, it turns out that there may be more reason than ever for anti-UCITA optimism.
UCITA has been stopped in its tracks, and there are signs that the damage it has already caused might yet be undone. When this enactment was set over a year ago by Virginia lawmakers, it was assumed that, by this time, UCITA would have been approved by many other states. Instead, only Maryland has enacted what, as I've discussed previously, is a somewhat hybridized version of the law.
With a few minor differences, Virginia's law is the real deal, closely following the model law crafted by the Business Software, uh, I mean, drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
Not only has UCITA failed to pass in any other states so far, it now seems unlikely it will go much further anywhere this year. In states such as Texas and Arizona, where UCITA appeared to be making the most progress earlier in the year, it stalled when legislators took a closer look at its innards. Many states have already concluded their legislative session for the year, and of those that remain in session, only New Jersey and the District of Columbia have UCITA bills currently under consideration. Opposition to the bills in both of these locales is strong, so it will take a real railroad job for UCITA to get any further this year.
Anti-UCITA "bomb-shelter" bills, which protect a state's consumers from having UCITA invoked against them, have generally met with better reception than has UCITA itself during this year's legislative sessions. Iowa renewed the one-year bomb-shelter law it enacted last year, and West Virginia passed a similar law. Other states that have bomb-shelter bills under consideration include New York, Oregon, and Ohio.
The credit for derailing the UCITA express has to go to the Americans for Fair Electronic Commerce Transactions coalition and the vastly improved organization it brought to this year's legislative battles. The trick has been to make sure key state officials don't commit to backing the law's passage without understanding what it really is. When all they know about UCITA is what Microsoft Corp. or America Online Inc. tells them, it's understandable that politicians might believe that the law really is good for e-commerce or really will attract high-tech jobs to their states. It's a lot harder for politicians to believe these things when they see the tremendous variety of people who oppose the law: corporate IT procurement officers, librarians, engineers and other high-tech professionals, consumer advocates, and so on.