Politico Pro: Privacy Bills Go Straight to Senate Floor

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This report first appeared on POLITICO California Pro on Aug. 15, 2019.

SACRAMENTO — Soon after lawmakers returned to the Capitol this week, a slate of Privacy Act bills originally set to be heard by the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee instead went straight to the Senate floor, closing off a well-worn backchannel for end-of-session deal-making.

The unexpected development hardly spells the end of the road for business interests pursuing changes to California’s landmark Privacy Act before it takes effect in January. But it does mean that any changes in the session’s final weeks likely will be made on the floor, rather than through amendments pushed through by the appropriations chairman, who has the authority to alter bills without an author’s consent.

The decision “essentially took away a whole bunch of opportunities for non-public shenanigans,” said Tracy Rosenberg, executive director of Media Alliance, a San Francisco-based group that promotes greater transparency and consumer protections online.

The move by Appropriations Chairman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) was, at least on its surface, technical: At least six Privacy Act-related bills originally sent to his committee were deemed by its staffers to have minimal financial implications for the state. Under a rule that Capitol-watchers might know as 28.8, such bills can advance without approval from the appropriations committee — a decision left to the committee chair. Portantino used that rule to move the privacy bills off his committee’s plate.

Most of the Privacy Act legislation that has survived this far is fairly uncontroversial in its current form, offering clarifications and other tweaks. But any one of the proposals could become a vessel for more sweeping changes sought by industry groups whose efforts to soften the law were thwarted in a Senate judiciary committee hearing last month.

The strongest law of its kind in the nation, the California Consumer Privacy Act will give residents the right to ask businesses what personal information has been collected about them, and to direct the business not to sell the information and to delete it. It gives even stronger protections for children under age 16, requiring advance permission from teenagers or parents of younger children before a company can sell their personal information.

The Legislature passed the Privacy Act last summer after multimillionaire developer Alastair Mactaggart agreed to pull a data-privacy initiative he sponsored from the November ballot. The hastily-crafted deal was brokered by Mactaggart and lawmakers including Assemblyman Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) and Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys).

Mactaggart has remained involved in this year’s negotiations.

Business interests spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying on data privacy in the last quarter alone, and are still pushing for changes.

In an interview Thursday, Dan Jaffe, who heads the government relations office for the Washington, D.C.-based Association of National Advertisers, referenced issues that were at the heart of a hotly contested proposal that failed in committee last month.

CA AB873 (19R), by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), would have redefined the types of data covered or exempted under the law. Business interests have argued the current language is overly broad and vague, and contend that it could have unintended consequences for consumers as well as businesses. Consumer groups have countered that changing the definitions would severely undermine the law.

“We are pushing something that is not out there yet,” Jaffe said, “trying to get Hertzberg and Mactaggart and others to realize that the way that CCPA is structured it actually has some provisions that are anti-consumer.”

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