The Senate's point man on the year-2000 computer problem predicted Wednesday that some banks will fail because of it.

"I believe the financial system will work," said Year-2000 Committee Chairman Robert Bennett. "But I think there are individual banks and credit unions that will go bankrupt."

In a speech before the National Press Club, the Utah Republican said businesses are not taking the problem seriously enough, despite warnings that the bug will make computers go haywire by reading the date Jan. 1, 2000, as Jan. 1, 1900.

"The very best way to make sure your computer problems don't get solved is for the chief executive officer to ignore them," he said.

Sen. Bennett praised President Clinton for proposing legislation Tuesday that would protect businesses that disclose the status of their year-2000 preparations. Under the so-called "Good Samaritan" law, businesses that "honestly and carefully" prepare their reports would not be held liable if the information turns out to be inaccurate.

The protection is "absolutely essential," Sen. Bennett said, because companies must share information with each other, regulators, and their customers to get the problem fixed in time.

"We have 76 weeks to get this under control," he warned.

Michael R. Zucchini, chief technology officer of Fleet Financial Group, also praised President Clinton's plan. "Every moment that we spend trying to anticipate the legal issues takes away resources from fixing the problem."

Sen. Bennett said the flaw, which is written into software programs and embedded in computer chips worldwide, is so pervasive that some major problems, including power brownouts and transportation breakdowns, are all but certain.

"I'm not dumping all my stock," he said. "But I plan to document all my financial information on paper. I don't want to be at the mercy of some (computer) screen.

"I will check with my bank to see if they can provide me reasonable assurance that they can provide me money after 2000," he said.

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