House nears vote on data privacy protections

Disputes between the House and Senate helped kill last year’s data privacy bill.

The House could soon vote to strengthen consumer data privacy in Florida despite the business community’s fears the bill could cripple it financially.

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 significantly raise costs on companies, which will trickle down to consumers.

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. Ultimately, lawmakers hope to prevent companies from trading in Floridians’ data without their approval.

“Over time, we’ve traded more and more of our personal information in exchange for that convenience to the point where our online identity is a commoditized product that is available to sale to the highest bidder, whoever that bidder may be and for whatever purpose,” McFarland said.

Budget analysts at Florida TaxWatch argue the consumer data privacy legislation could have a $21 billion hit to Florida’s economy. In particular, the report hounded the House version.

McFarland acknowledged there would be a compliance cost for businesses.

“Yes, there’s a compliance cost, but we’ve also given you the privilege of our personal private information,” McFarland said. “If you want to profit off of that, then perhaps that’s a reasonable cost that a company ought to be able to bear.”

The bill is a priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls and could potentially be a bargaining chip in negotiations as Sine Die is just 10 days away.

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. Contrasting with DeSantis’ comments, McFarland said she does not believe Big Tech is evil, noting her husband works for a large tech company.

The estimated $21 billion economic impact 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 most small businesses from the proposal. However, some small businesses could potentially be roped in.

Much of the public discourse on the bill has come between McFarland and Brandon Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned, a pair of freshman lawmakers who are Navy veterans. Learned, who owns a small tutoring company he says would be caught in the bill as a franchisee, tried to make six amendments to McFarland’s measure.

Many of Learned’s proposals would have ensured small businesses aren’t caught up in the data privacy regulations. However, Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine argued Learned’s provisions would have let companies like Amazon and Google off the hook too.

But Learned said he disagreed that lawmakers should write legislation targeting specific businesses. Without his amendments, all of which were shot down, he feared Florida would be opening small businesses up to lawsuits over normal business practices, like sharing a customer’s information with services the company uses.

“I philosophically don’t think that we should make that possible simply because we have a vendetta with one or two firms,” Learned said.

One change McFarland successfully added increased the timeframe for a company to honor an opt-out request from 48 hours to four calendar days, a request of the business community.

Her amendment would also allow businesses to win attorneys fees from a consumer who filed a lawsuit in bad faith.

If the House passes the bill, expected Wednesday, it would next move to the Senate.

Disputes between the House and Senate helped kill last year’s data privacy bill.

The Senate bill (SB 1864) would tap the Florida Attorney General as the only one who can sue companies. However, McFarland’s bill would allow individuals to sue companies directly, a provision she says gives the bill teeth.

The Senate bill, 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, the Senate would have to expedite the measure through nontraditional means, by slating it to one Senate committee.

During his State of the State address last month, DeSantis reiterated his support for the bill. But it’s unclear where he stands on the lawsuit issue.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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