State Lawmakers Testify about Industry Influence on Privacy Bills in Vermont Hearing 

April 30, 2024

State lawmakers from across the country testified Friday to Vermont’s House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development about how industry lobbying affected their experiences championing privacy bills in their states. 

The state lawmakers who testified were: Maine Rep. Maggie O’NeilMaryland Del. Sara Love, former Oklahoma Rep. Collin WalkeKentucky Sen. Whitney Westerfield, and Montana Sen. Daniel Zolnikov

All five lawmakers encouraged Vermont to pass a strong privacy law this session, in many cases urging the Vermont legislators to adopt provisions stronger than what they were able to include in their own state bills. The lawmakers all testified that they experienced heavy lobbying to weaken their bills. 

Kentucky Sen. Westerfield highlighted how national industry lobbying groups like the State Privacy and Security Coalition, NetChoice, and TechNet are working with local chambers of commerce and their members to lobby against strong state privacy laws. 

“The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, informed by a lot of the biggest players in the country and in the world who are parts of the State Privacy and Security Coalition, the AT&Ts and others, Amazon, and the likes,” Sen. Westerfield said. “You had a lot of people demanding that my bill not advance, or something like my bill not advance.”

Del. Love of Maryland also noted just how much money and effort national lobbyists spent trying to weaken her privacy bill. 

“I will tell you, I have not in my six years, in my second term, seen as hard a lobbying job as these folks did. They put so much money into pushing and lobbying,” Del. Love said. “The more they pushed, the more we said — and not just me, also other legislators said — ‘Enough. We’re going to pass something that matters.’”

Del. Love and Maine Rep. O’Neil—both of whom sponsored privacy bills this year—talked about how industry lobbyists used small and local businesses to help fight strong privacy laws. 

“At the very end, when they realized this bill was actually going through and it was going through with data minimization and it was going through the way it was, that’s when they pulled out small business: “Oh, this is going to hurt small businesses,” Del. Love said. “I think they’re learning that that’s something that sways legislators because we all care about our small businesses. And it was fascinating to watch the evolution because that was not an issue early on, and then you could see certain legislators have that talking point near the end.”

Rep. O’Neil pointed to a similar strategy in Maine. 

“Something we saw that was really hard to combat was that these companies organized local businesses and well-known Maine companies to speak on their behalf. In Maine, LL Bean is a well-known big company, and they became a big spokesperson for the interests of the bigger lobbying groups,” Rep. O’Neil said. “In Maine, if LL Bean says something, people are going to respect that.”  

Vermont Rep. Monique Priestley, a lead sponsor of a privacy bill currently facing industry pushback, also talked during the hearing about how she was facing similar opposition from lobbyists. The Vermont bill passed the House unanimously last month and is now in the Senate, where the bill has been significantly weakened. 

EPIC supports Vermont’s H.121 as it passed the House and testified in support of the bills in Maine and Maryland.

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