Lawmakers to Vet Privacy, Broadband Bills as Packed Session Resumes

The California state Legislature extended its summer recess due to COVID-19 cases and concerns – but, upon returning Monday, they'll now have just five weeks to pass about 700 bills, including several key pieces of technology and broadband legislation.

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California lawmakers returned from their summer recess Monday, two weeks late due to COVID-19 concerns, to begin what should be an action-packed month for bills on all topics including technology.

Legislators extended their recess past July 13 after confirmed COVID cases emerged among two lawmakers and several staffers. For safety reasons, Assembly members can now vote by proxy – with four of their colleagues enabled to vote on their behalf – but collectively, roughly 700 bills will have to clear the statehouse by Aug. 31, five weeks away. Among the takeaways:

Senate Bill 980, from state Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, is still alive. Using the California Consumer Privacy Act as foundation, it would create the “Genetic Information Privacy Act” and prohibit “a direct-to-consumer genetic or illness testing services company from disclosing a person’s genetic information to a third party without obtaining the person’s prior written consent.” The bill would regulate COVID-19 testing companies that aren’t covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), by not allowing them to share consumers’ biometric data without explicit consent; and would seek civil penalties for violations. The Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, which was originally slated to hear it July 14, will instead consider it Tuesday.

SB 932, from state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would require electronic communicable-disease reporting tools used by the California Department of Public Health and local health officials be able to collect and report data relating to the sexual orientation and gender identity of people diagnosed with COVID-19. SB 932 would also require health-care providers that are aware of cases of COVID-19 or suspected cases report a patient’s “sexual orientation and gender identity, if known,” to a local health officer. It will be heard Aug. 4 by the Assembly Committee on Health.

Assembly Bill 904, from Assemblymember Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, a member of the California Legislative Technology and Innovation Caucus, would expand the definition of a tracking device from an “electronic or mechanical device that permits the tracking of the movement of a person or object” to include “any software that permits the tracking of the movement of a person or object.” Considering tracking devices are used to generate evidence of crime, this could have significant implications for law enforcement. The bill is slated to be heard July 31 by the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Three other Chau bills appear to still be alive but don’t yet have hearing dates. AB 2280 would define “personal health record information … to mean individually identifiable information, in electronic or physical form … ,” collected by a commercial Internet site, online service, or product the individual uses; and that “collects the individual’s individually identifiable personal health record information through a direct measurement of an individual’s mental or physical condition or through user input regarding an individual’s mental or physical condition.” AB 1782 would “regulate public health entities and businesses … that provide technology-assisted contact tracing.” And AB 2442 would “require a person that operates a social media platform … to disclose whether or not that social media platform has a policy or mechanism in place to address the spread of misinformation, as specified.” All had been slated for second readings July 14.

• Two broadband bills still in play came up last week at the California Broadband Council meeting – with Council member Sarah Smith, the designated representative of state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, telling colleagues via Zoom “… we are still planning on hearing bills, but it’s going to be a really condensed calendar.” One proposed law is AB 570, from Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters. It would focus on the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), revising its goal to include approving funding for infrastructure projects to bring broadband access to at least 98 percent of state households previously identified; set up the State Agency Direct Allocation Account in CASF; and specify its money, upon Legislative appropriation, could enable distance learning, telehealth and telemedicine. The bill would also authorize the California Public Utilities Commission, starting Jan. 1, 2023, to levy a surcharge of between $66 million and $125 million annually, and would specify their allocation, requiring the Commission to prioritize “certain applications for grants from the Broadband Infrastructure Grant Account, as specified … .” The bill is still alive, but hasn’t been scheduled for any consideration since clearing a Senate committee July 10.

• And SB 1130, from state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach, would make it easier for local governments and Internet service providers (ISPs) to access money in the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), to do high-speed broadband projects in unserved and high-poverty areas. The state Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance, which was supposed to hear it July 14, will instead consider it Tuesday.

Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.