Tech Bills Face Scrutiny Over Financial Impact

The California state Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday placed four technology bills dealing with broadband access, the novel coronavirus's (COVID-19) impact on LGBTQ residents and other topics in "suspense" pending further consideration of their estimated financial impact.

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Despite legislators’ focus on California’s proposed 2020-2021 Fiscal Year budget, which they must approve by Monday per the state Constitution, several pieces of technology legislation are still alive.

On Tuesday, the California state Senate Appropriations Committee weighed the fiscal impact of 96 bills, voting on four with potential significance to private-sector technology companies and the public sector. Lawmakers placed all four into “suspense” — a recognition that the proposed laws would have a significant financial impact if passed or result in a loss of revenue — and will hear about them again on June 18. Among the takeaways:

Senate Bill 932, from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would require that “any electronic communicable disease reporting tool” used by the California Department of Public Health and local health officers include the ability to collect and report data relating to the sexual orientation and gender identity of people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The bill would also require that health-care providers who are aware of cases of COVID-19 or suspected cases report the patient’s “sexual orientation and gender identity, if known,” to a local health officer.

“One of many failures in the US response to #COVID19 is the failure to collect data on the virus’s impacts on #LGBTQ people,” Wiener tweeted last month. “It’s great to see members of Congress step up. Sadly, CA is doing no better & I’m authoring #SB932 to mandate this data collection.” A committee analysis found that the bill could have “indeterminate, ongoing cost pressures, for potential state-local mandate costs,” relative to an increase in workload for local jurisdictions. S.B. 932 garnered support from nonprofit civil rights group Equality California, a sponsor.

S.B. 1058, the “Digital Divide Relief Plan” from Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, would require the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to direct Internet service providers to submit annual emergency operations plans detailing how they will ensure reliable communications during a disaster or local emergency; identify an affordable class of broadband Internet service to be offered “as emergency relief”; and make sure residents without broadband can keep their home phones “at affordable rates,” through the Lifeline program. An urgency statute, it would take effect immediately if approved. The bill received one comment in support and three in opposition, including from California Cable and Telecommunications Association Vice President of Governmental Affairs Bernie Orozco, who questioned the estimated costs of around $600,000 associated with implementation, and what the CPUC would do with the submitted plans.

S.B. 980, from Sen. Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, would build on the California Consumer Privacy Act by creating the “Genetic Information Privacy Act,” prohibiting “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.” It would impose civil penalties for violations and require that “actions for relief pursuant” be prosecuted “exclusively by a district attorney, county counsel, city attorney, or city prosecutor,” in the name of the people of the state of California.

S.B. 1069, from Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would require telecommunications companies to do more when their infrastructure is out of service or not working, including notifying “the office of critical telecommunications infrastructure” of failures that would prevent the transmission of an emergency notification or 911 call, as well as county offices of emergency services. It would also require that the companies inventory their “critical telecommunications infrastructure” annually to the CPUC and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services — the former of which would be tasked with evaluating the impact of such outages.

Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.