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Major California Privacy Legislation and Ballot Measure Race Toward Looming Deadline

The closely watched California Consumer Privacy Act initiative became eligible for the November ballot late Monday, but its authors are willing to withdraw the measure if state legislators can pass their major privacy legislation by Thursday’s ballot withdrawal deadline.

California legislators are racing to pass a major privacy bill and have it signed by the governor by close of business Thursday, in order to avert the California Consumer Privacy Act making it onto the November ballot.

Authors of the ballot, Californians for Consumer Privacy, have agreed to withdraw their measure if AB 375 is signed into law by end of day June 28, the deadline for ballot proponents to withdraw their California initiatives. The organization’s California Consumer Privacy Act was deemed eligible for the November ballot June 25.

Co-authors of AB 375, Sens. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, scored a win today, when the Senate Judiciary Committee passed AB 375, allowing it to head to the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

The committee is scheduled to hear AB 375 on Thursday and, if approved, it would be heard by both the Senate and Assembly later that same day. A simple majority vote is needed to pass the legislation, which would then go to the governor for his signature the same day.

“Although it’s not perfect, this bill represents a huge step forward for privacy rights in America. We feel confident after listening to every stakeholder at the table, including proponents of the ballot initiative, that we have come to a legislative agreement that protects consumers at a level unseen under current law,” Hertzberg told Government Technology in a statement.

Under AB 375, consumers would have the right to know what data a business or organization is collecting about them, have the power to demand that all of their personal information held by that entity be deleted, as well as prohibit the sale of their personal information and freedom to report violators. Parental consent would also be required before a company or organization could sell data about children under the age of 16.

A number of the provisions in AB 375 are similar to the ballot measure that a number of technology titans staunchly opposed. Facebook, Google and Verizon each contributed $200,000 to the ballot initiative’s opposition camp’s campaign, setting the stage for a bloody ballot battle that industry watchers predicted would go into the millions of dollars in campaign contributions.

When the legislation was introduced late last week, Alastair Mactaggart, chairman of Californians for Consumer Privacy and major funder of the ballot initiative, said in a statement: “This legislation, like the initiative, would provide simple, powerful rights to Californians: tell me what you know about me. Stop selling it. Keep it safe.”

Mactaggart noted that if the bill does not pass before the ballot withdrawal deadline, his organization will proceed to the November election.

“We are content either way, as we feel that both the legislative solution, and our initiative, provide tremendously increased privacy rights to Californians,” he stated.

Mactaggart was not immediately available to comment on the amendments that have been made to the bill since it was initially drafted last week. Should AB 375 pass, it would likely not be the last of its tweaks.

If signed into law, the new rules would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2020. And in the meantime, the Legislature can refine the bill with other changes.  

For legislators, that may be a huge selling point. If the California Consumer Privacy Act ballot measure passes, both houses would each need to approve any changes to the measure by a 70 percent vote versus a simple majority.

Regardless, Assemblyman Chau said in a statement: “Today’s action by the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote in support of AB 375 gets us one step closer to passing landmark privacy legislation that will put consumers in the driver’s seat when it comes to making decisions about the use of their personal information by businesses online.”