Laws that protect the state from liability lawsuits may be expanded to cover malfunctions caused by state-operated computer systems tripped up by Y2K problems.

Fixing problems caused when two-digit date codes in computer chips and software trip when "99" becomes "00" in 2000 is the top priority, but officials working on those fixes concede some will slip through the cracks.State Risk Manager Alan Edwards told the Information Technology Commission Thursday that computer problems that could adversely affect Utahns might be in the form of malfunctioning traffic signals, mix-ups in records for occupational licensing or even prison doors that fling open because of an automation failure. The panel includes state senators and representatives.

Does the state need protection? Yes, Edwards said. How much? The answer to that question is as unknown as the computer problems that will escape Y2K troubleshooting for which the state, so far, has allotted $9 million.

Draft legislation prepared with the help of the Utah Attorney General's office suggests amending existing liability codes to specifically make the state immune from any claim that arises from damage caused by government computers or communications devices - anything that relies on automation or digital technology to function - according to a draft of a proposed bill presented to the commission Thursday.