Will California join TikTok ban?
President Biden signed a law banning nearly 4 million federal employees from having TikTok on their government phones, over national security concerns. This week, New Jersey and Ohio joined at least 20 other states in restricting access to TikTok, amid fears that the Chinese government could use the app to spy on Americans.
Will California jump on the TikTok ban bandwagon?
While the state often leads on the policy frontier, not so much on regulating social media companies, many of which make their home in California.
It’s a live issue in the Legislature now that bills were introduced Wednesday to ban TikTok and other “high-risk” apps on state-issued cell phones and devices. State Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat who authored one of the bills, said he wants to prevent cybersecurity threats — of which there have been a few recently.
Dodd’s Senate Bill 74 is still in its early phases, but if passed, it would apply to apps owned or controlled by a “country of concern” — a list that would be maintained by the governor’s office. TikTok, the short-form video hosting platform, is owned by ByteDance, in which the Chinese government owns a stake.
- Dodd: “Prohibiting these apps on state phones and other devices is a commonsense way to prevent exposure of our sensitive material and the possible tracking or data breaches. Clearly, there are bad actors out there, and we can’t afford to let them in.”
Assemblymember Kate Sanchez, a first-term Murrieta Republican who introduced her own version in Assembly Bill 227, focused more on the Chinese threat. She said the introduction of Dodd’s bill shows it is a bipartisan issue.
- Sanchez: “At a time when the Chinese Communist Party is attempting to undermine America, it is completely unacceptable to continue to allow them to access sensitive data through TikTok’s ByteDance. We need to cut off the flow of sensitive data, protect our state’s cybersecurity, and act before it’s too late.”
Dodd’s bill, supported by the Consumer Federation of California, wouldn’t prevent state employees from using TikTok on their personal phones — which means Californians may not entirely miss out on some of those light-hearted, informative and sometimes snarky interactions with lawmakers.
- Umberg: “It is something we should do with a great deal of clarity and great deal of due diligence because when government starts to ban modes of communication that can be a problem.”
Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Democrat from Woodland Hills and chairperson of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, didn’t commit to supporting the bill, but said the committee would discuss the best way to address “privacy, cybersecurity, and national security concerns with TikTok and other social media applications.”
In the face of industry opposition, the recent track record of social media bills is mixed.
Last year, lawmakers killed a nationally-watched bill to allow the attorney general or district attorneys to bring civil lawsuits against social media companies for products or features they know will addict kids. The tech industry strongly opposed the bill. Gov. Gavin Newsom did sign into law a bill designed to protect the privacy of children online. Industry groups said the legislation was too broad and objected to state-by-state regulations.
CalMatters covers the Legislature: With the state Legislature back in session, CalMatters has you covered with guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard and understand how state government works. We also have Spanish-language versions for the Legislature’s demographics and the state government explainer.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 A respite from the storms?
But as of Wednesday night, at least 19 people had already lost their lives in the parade of storms that started just after Christmas.
The record precipitation and disastrous flooding have been an abrupt change for a state in the midst of a drought. Since Dec. 26, an average of 8.6 inches of rain has fallen across California, with a substantially higher 13.34 inches in the Bay Area.
The deluge, however, won’t end the drought still gripping about 71% of the state — at least not yet — and it won’t cure what’s been the driest period in the West in the past 1,200 years, CalMatters’ Alastair Bland reports.
That’s because so much rain falling in such a short time damages water infrastructure and is hard to store. Snowpack levels have been strong, but experts caution that it’s a fickle resource.
- Michael Anderson, a climatologist with the state Department of Water Resources, said warmer weather — or, worse, high-altitude rainfall — could create “flood management concerns as that snow melts, especially if it melts too quickly.”
Meanwhile, Assembly Republicans held a press conference today to demand that Newsom prioritize flood protection, water storage and conveyance projects: “Despite years of record drought and recent devastating floods, the governor’s budget fails to invest in critical infrastructure.”
While clean-up and repairs begin, some in San Francisco are facing some frustrating barriers: the city will no longer be paying for damages caused by its limited sewer capacity, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
But there’s some relief for Californians in storm-hit areas: The Internal Revenue Service is giving taxpayers in counties covered by a federal emergency declaration — 31 so far — an extra month to file tax returns, until May 15.
2 California AG: Forgive student loans
From CalMatters higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn: California’s top lawyer is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the White House’s contested plan to forgive as much as $20,000 in student debt for 40 million Americans — about 3.5 million of whom live in California. Attorney General Rob Bonta filed the amicus brief Wednesday, along with attorneys general in 21 other states plus Washington D.C., arguing that the Biden administration has the authority to push through its debt forgiveness plan based on legislation Congress passed in 2003. That law empowered the U.S. Secretary of Education to waive certain policies during a national emergency. And that should include a global health pandemic such as COVID-19, backers of Biden’s plan say.
A lawsuit by six conservative states halted Biden’s plan, which his administration introduced last fall, by arguing that they’d lose state revenue if borrowers have their debt forgiven and that the plan itself is executive overreach. A lower court agreed and put Biden’s plan on hold. The White House appealed — and now a conservative Supreme Court will determine whether millions of Americans will benefit from a program estimated to cost $400 billion over 30 years. Oral arguments begin next month. Bonta’s legal brief is part of a bevy of letters to the court from cities, economists and legal scholars urging it to let the Biden debt forgiveness plan proceed.
If the high court sides with Biden soon, California state lawmakers have several proposals in place to ensure borrowers don’t pay state income taxes this year. Currently, state law would treat Biden’s debt forgiveness as taxable income.
Jim Newton, a veteran journalist, author and teacher, will be writing a bi-monthly column for CalMatters exploring the vital issues affecting Los Angeles, and helping readers understand why they matter to California and beyond. Find out more about him.
His first column: Are Los Angeles voters fed up enough to expand the city council?
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As California’s state budget morphs from a $97.5 billion surplus to a multi-billion-dollar deficit, it’s another reminder about the volatility of the state’s revenue system.
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