Legislation to strengthen consumer data privacy in Florida passed its final House panel on its way to the floor despite being slow-walked in the Senate.
The proposal (HB 9) would give consumers the right to determine what information has been collected, delete or correct the data, and opt-out of the sale or sharing of that personal information. But the House version, filed by Rep. Fiona McFarland, has drawn resistance from business interests who fear complying with the measure will be financially crippling.
The bill unanimously passed the House Commerce Committee earlier this month. However, four Democrats voted against the measure as it passed 13-4 in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
McFarland noted the traditional roles had been flipped, with Republicans backing consumer protections while Democrats backed business protections.
The Sarasota Republican told the committee she appreciates the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of the tech industry and that she likes the choice to trade some privacy for convenience at the hand of technology.
“This bill draws a line at the point where a company transitions from making money from me as the consumer and starts selling me to make money off of me,” McFarland said.
While the House bill is ready for members to consider on the chamber floor, the Senate bill (SB 1864), carried by Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley, has not been scheduled for a committee hearing this cycle. At this point in the Legislative Session, it would require the Senate waiving the rules to take up the bill, which is a priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls.
Disputes between the House and Senate helped kill last year’s data privacy bill.
The Senate bill would tap the Florida Attorney General as the only one who can sue companies. Business lobbyists have thanked McFarland for removing the opportunity for class action lawsuits in her version, but the “private cause of action” would still allow frivolous lawsuits in their eyes.
Gov. Ron DeSantis began Florida’s push for increased consumer data privacy as he launched attacks against Big Tech in the wake of the 2020 election. During his State of the State address last month, DeSantis reiterated his support, but where he stands on the lawsuit issue is unclear.
An updated report from Florida TaxWatch argues the consumer data privacy legislation could have a $21 billion hit to Florida’s economy. In particular, the report, released Wednesday, hounded the House version.
The $21 billion number is a drop from the $36.5 billion TaxWatch estimated with a version of the bill lawmakers attempted to pass last year. That change is largely because the thresholds in this year’s bill help eliminate small businesses from the proposal. However, some small businesses could potentially be roped in.
Brandon Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned told members he owns a small tutoring company that would qualify under the bill because it is a branch of a larger, international franchise.
The bill would apply to businesses that meet two of three thresholds: have $50 million global annual revenue, sell the data of 50,000 consumers, or derive half of its global revenue from selling personal data. Learned attempted unsuccessfully to require businesses to hit all three points before they become subject to the bill.
“If we make it three of three, we’re neutering the bill,” McFarland said. “We’re passing a piece of paper that makes us feel good without providing meaningful protection to Floridian consumers.”
While Learned supported the bill’s premise, he argued it would hurt businesses. Government should have regulated consumer data privacy 15 years ago, he added.
“Now we’re trying to go back in time and change the way the internet functions,” Learned said.
Tallahassee Rep. Ramon Alexander, the Democratic Leader-designate, suggested the bill isn’t based on promoting consumer data privacy.
“I believe it stems from national politics and an adversarial relationship with Big Tech,” Alexander said.
Lithia Republican Rep. Mike Beltran appreciated changes McFarland had made to the bill to eliminate openings for frivolous lawsuits.
“It’s supposed to be a tool, and it’s turned into people trading each other like baseball cards, apparently, in 50,000-person batches at a time,” Beltran said.
While the bill could become a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Senate, McFarland made clear the proposal remains a priority.
“I don’t want to sleep on Florida’s right to privacy for another year or another five years or another 10 years until the federal government figures out a cohesive way to address this problem,” she said.