California Democratic congressman backs federal preemption of state privacy laws

12 February 2020 9:40pm
California law

12 February 2020. By Dave Perera.

A Democratic congressional representative from California today expressed support for federal preemption of state privacy laws and criticized his state's first-in-the-nation privacy law, pitting himself against others in the state delegation who have strongly supported the California Consumer Privacy Act.

A federal privacy bill "will in some ways preempt laws" such as the CCPA, Tony Cárdenas said during a morning event in Washington, DC. A proliferation of state laws will impair commerce, Cárdenas told MLex after the event.

"What happens when you have state-by-state laws, is all of a sudden [businesses] have to adhere to their state law and they have to modify their processes and that affects their ability to do business in other states, and vice versa."

Cárdenas sits on the House Energy & Commerce committee and is vice-chair of the subcommittee on consumer protection. The committee is drafting a bipartisan privacy bill, but preemption remains a key point of disagreement.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Jan Schakowsky has repeatedly urged her colleagues to tackle the question of preemption last, after settling debate on other policy matters. The Illinois Democrat isn't opposed to preemption but has said she is unwilling to cede the matter at the outset.

Cárdenas also panned the California privacy law for being rushed, calling it "a work in progress" at the moment of its signing and even today.

State lawmakers drafted it during a 7-day session in summer 2018 to prevent a stricter privacy initiative from being on the general election ballot.

The result is akin to a "half-painted" room, said Cárdenas, himself a former member of the California assembly. State lawmakers understood they would have to later modify the bill, Cárdenas said, but haven't done so.

"When legislatures do that, they say, 'Yeah, we had to try to figure out a fix for now and we'll come back to it later.' Nine times out of 10, they never come back to it later."

Others disagree.
"It wasn't just thrown together overnight," said Justin Brookman, director for consumer privacy and technology policy at Consumer Reports. Advocates collaborated beforehand to prepare the ballot initiative language that voters would have faced in November but for the compromise that replaced it with the CCPA, Brookman said in a telephone interview.

Other members of the California delegation have also been more effusive with their praise of the law.

Among them is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat who in April 2019 said preemption is "just not going to happen. We in California are not going to say, 'You pass a law that weakens what we did in California.' That won't happen."