Emerging Technologies Washington Update

October 31, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee holds hearing on reauthorizing the US SAFE WEB Act, New CRS report outlines issues in AV testing and deployment as lawmakers seek legislative compromise, California ballot measure seeks carveouts from gig economy law.

Week in Review

As the House and Senate continue to negotiate FY20 spending levels, the Senate spent most of the week on the first appropriations bills to reach the floor in a package that includes the Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture, Interior, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bills. After dispensing with several amendments, the Senate voted 84-9 this afternoon to adopt the package before turning to a second package that includes the Labor-HHS-Education, Defense, State-Foreign Operations, and Energy-Water bills. A procedural vote to take up that second package failed 51-41.

Last Thursday, the Senate passed Senator Rob Portman’s (R-OH) Deepfake Report Act of 2019 by unanimous consent. Portman and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) launched the Senate Artificial Intelligence (AI) Caucus earlier this year. The bipartisan legislation requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to study deepfake technology, how it is used both domestically and overseas, and what countermeasures are available. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced a bipartisan companion bill in the House.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) announced this week that he will retire at the end of his term. Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) recently introduced the Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2019, which would prevent people who work 30 days or less in a state outside of their home state from being required to file a state income tax return for the state they are visiting. A companion Senate bill introduced earlier this year has 35 bipartisan cosponsors. Bicameral lawmakers also recently introduced the Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act to address estimates that nearly 50% of US jobs could be a risk due to automation. Specifically, the legislation would direct GAO to study barriers to and opportunities for training workers in industries in which automation will have an impact, create a Department of Labor grant program to support training programs for workers who are or may be displaced, and increase funding for National Dislocated Worker Grants.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced this week that it is seeking information on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on intellectual property law and policy. Comments are due by December 16.

Looking Ahead

The House is in recess next week. The Senate will be in session with just a few legislative days remaining before government spending authority is set to expire on November 21. Aside from continuing to negotiate a deal to avert a shutdown, lawmakers will likely soon take up a pared down version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that does not address controversial issues like PFAS chemicals. USMCA trade deal negotiations are also ongoing.

Elsewhere, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) is planning a hearing next month on privacy legislation, though the legislation to be considered remains to be determined. Senator Josh Hawley’s (R-MO) Senate Judiciary subcommittee will also hold a hearing next Tuesday on data security.

House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Reauthorizing the US SAFE WEB Act

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss reauthorizing the Undertaking Spam, Spyware, And Fraud Enforcement With Enforcers beyond Borders Act (US SAFE WEB) Act, which provides the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with tools protect consumers from cross-border fraud and deception, especially spam, spyware, and deception. The FTC recently provided recommendations for reauthorizing the statute, which will expire in September 2020, noting its importance to reciprocal information sharing and coordination with foreign law enforcement.

Reps. Robin Kelly (D-IL) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced the US SAFE WEB Extension Act on October 22 to reauthorize the US SAFE WEB Act for seven years. During the hearing, Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) endorsed extending the program before it expires. Subcommittee Chairwoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is a cosponsor of the Kelly-Rodgers legislation and noted that the provision is important because it confirms that the FTC’s jurisdiction extends to foreign wrongdoers that harm American consumers.

New CRS Report Outlines Issues in AV Testing and Deployment as Lawmakers Seek Legislative Compromise

A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report details the issues that stalled legislation intended to accelerate autonomous vehicle (AV) deployment as key lawmakers are seeking to reignite the process. Last Congress, the House passed the SELF DRIVE Act by voice vote and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee advanced its own bill, the AV START Act, though unresolved concerns from senators prevented it from reaching the floor. There were also key differences between the two bills that are the subject of ongoing negotiations between House and Senate stakeholders today.

CRS identifies four key areas that prevented the bills from moving forward last year, including 1) the extent to which Congress should alter the roles of the federal and state governments in vehicle regulation, 2) how many AVs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should permit on the roads for testing and what exemptions from safety standards it should grant to enable that testing, 3) how to address cybersecurity threats, and 4) access to data generated by AVs.

The report also outlines various proposals industry and others have put forth related to connected vehicles and spectrum allocation and specific concerns raised among state entities, as well as organizations like the National Governors Association (NGA).

California Ballot Measure Seeks Carveouts from Gig Economy Law

Several ride-hailing and on-demand companies filed a ballot initiative this week in California seeking carveouts from a new state law that reclassifies certain contract workers as full time employees. Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have pledged $90 million to get the Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Act on the ballot in November 2020. The law, known as AB 5, goes into effect in January and would require such companies to prove that their drivers are independent contractors by demonstrating they are providing services that are outside the companies’ core business. The initiative requires 623,212 signatures from registered voters to appear on the ballot.

The proposal would exempt on-demand companies from the law and offer certain guarantees to drivers, such a 30 cents per mile driven, healthcare subsidies for drivers who work at least 15 hours a week, and occupational accident insurance coverage. It also would postpone any AB 5 enforcement or legal challenges raised between the time the law goes into effect and the election, if the measure is enacted. Unlike a previous legislative proposal, it does not include a path to unionization. For more on AB 5, click here