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State lawmakers are treading on new ground with an outright ban, but legislators around the country are concerned about the reach of social media. Plus, more news to use from around the country in this week's State and Local Roundup.
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It’s Friday, May 19, and we’d like to welcome you to the weekly State and Local Roundup. There’s plenty to keep tabs on, with a proliferation of surveillance cameras in public housing, Mississippi showing rapid progress in literacy rates and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s first week in office. But first we’ll start with the thing everybody’s talking about: Montana’s law banning TikTok in the state.
Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill Wednesday banning the Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, the first law of its kind in the country. Gianforte and Montana legislators pressed for the law because of concerns about TikTok’s relationship with China.
“TikTok’s continued operation in Montana serves as a valuable tool to the People’s Republic of China to conduct corporate and international espionage in Montana and may allow the People's Republic of China to track the real-time locations of public officials, journalists and other individuals adverse to the Chinese Communist Party’s interests,” the law states.
More than half of states and the federal government already have barred the Chinese-owned app from public agencies’ devices, citing national security concerns, but Montana’s new law goes much further.
Starting on Jan. 1, 2024, it imposes fines of $10,000 per day on any mobile store making the video-sharing app available, and on TikTok itself if it operates the app within the state. Individual TikTok users are not subject to the fines.
TikTok’s parent company ByteDance and the American Civil Liberties Union have said they intend to challenge the law as a violation of constitutionally protected free speech. Already, at least five TikTok users have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block Montana’s new ban, arguing it violates several parts of the Constitution, including the First Amendment’s protection of free speech and the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of due process.
“With this ban, Gov. Gianforte and the Montana Legislature have trampled on the free speech of hundreds of thousands of Montanans who use the app to express themselves, gather information and run their small business in the name of anti-Chinese sentiment,” said Keegan Medrano, policy director at the ACLU of Montana, in a press release. “We will never trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points.”
May 18, 2023
Brooke Oberwetter, a spokeswoman for TikTok, also said that a federal ban in 2020 did not hold up to legal scrutiny, although the court ruled in that case that then-President Donald Trump overstepped his executive authority.
Is It Enforceable?
Outside of whether the ban is constitutional, observers are unclear how Montana will actually enforce the ban. The law gives the Montana Department of Justice the power to levy fines for violations. But one expert, speaking to Route Fifty’s sister publication GCN, derided the legislation as unenforceable from a technological point of view.
“This bill is breathtakingly obtuse in its approach,” said Andy Green, an assistant professor of information security and assurance at Kennesaw State University. “The legislators in Montana don't understand, and it's not surprising that legislators don't understand, the intricacies of the internet.”
Supporters of the bill say the app’s ban could be enforced the same way states restrict online sports gambling. Those sites are blocked in states where it's illegal, and supporters say it is possible to design a digital firewall, something known as a geofence, to prohibit a site or app from being accessed within a state.
But a trade group funded by Apple and Google told Montana lawmakers in March that enforcement would be impossible and that app stores can’t geofence downloads state by state.
Aside from enforcement and legal challenges, the law brings to the forefront two big trends in states and localities. The first is what many are calling, “the China problem,” and the second is governments’ desire to rein in social media, especially as it relates to young people.
“The China Problem”
In a statement announcing his signature, Gianforte said, “The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private and sensitive information is well-documented. Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.”
Earlier, Gianforte also proposed amending the legislation to expand the ban to other social media apps with ties to “foreign adversaries,” but the legislature adjourned before taking up the bill. So Wednesday, Gianforte issued a separate order barring state agencies and government users from using a number of apps owned by Russian or Chinese companies, including Telegram, WeChat, CapCut and Temu. That order will take effect June 1.
States’ concerns over Chinese spying are not new. Lawmakers this year in Texas, Florida and Arkansas, among others, proposed laws banning Chinese citizens from buying land, homes and other buildings in the United States.
Just last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed multiple bills that not only ban Chinese citizens from buying land, but that also aim to combat corporate espionage and higher education subterfuge. One bill, referred to as Interests of Foreign Countries, will prohibit “governmental entities from contracting with foreign countries and entities of concern and restrict conveyances of agricultural lands and other interests in real property to foreign principal.”
Another bill directs the state’s Department of Management Services “to create a list of prohibited applications owned by a foreign principal or foreign countries of concern, including China, which present a cybersecurity and data privacy risk.”
It's a move Florida says will help protect it from interference by adversaries like China's government. Some states, including Minnesota and Iowa, have already enacted bans on foreign ownership in general of agricultural land, and a larger number place restrictions on such purchases. The Oklahoma Constitution limits land ownership to U.S. citizens.
Legislating Social Media
Many are worried that Montana’s law could set a legal or technical precedent for broader social media bans. States have already been moving to rein in such platforms, particularly minors’ use of social media.
In April, Utah became the first state in the nation to pass a law that restricts how minors are allowed to engage with TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media apps. The law requires that social media platforms verify the ages of all users in the state before they open an account. It specifies that anyone under 18 get parental permission before opening an account. The measure sets a curfew between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. that restricts minors’ use of social media unless a parent changes that setting; and it lets parents access minors’ accounts and restricts what personal information platforms can collect on minors. It goes into effect next year.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a similar law a week later. And many other states are considering laws, including California, New Jersey and Texas. California last year passed legislation to clamp down on the use of minors’ personal information and to reduce manipulative design that could encourage addiction to platforms, but the tech industry is currently challenging the law.
In March, Congress proposed two bills that would allow for a TikTok ban. President Joe Biden urged lawmakers to pass the legislation.
Many believe that a ban on TikTok or any social media should come from the federal government. States acting individually to ban foreign-made technology can be problematic, researchers recently told GCN. Jack Corrigan, a research analyst at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology told GCN earlier this year that there should be more transparency from the federal government on national security threats from tech, and that they should lead the way on bans.
Keep reading as there’s more news to use below, and make sure to come back here every Friday for the week’s highlights. If you don’t already and would prefer to get it in your inbox, you can subscribe to this newsletter here. Have a great weekend.
News to Use
Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs, and Notable Events
- Surveilling public housing. In public housing facilities across America, local officials are imposing an outsized level of scrutiny on some of the nation’s poorest citizens by installing a new generation of powerful and pervasive surveillance systems—some equipped with facial recognition and other artificial intelligence capabilities. Housing agencies are purchasing these tools with no guidance or limits on their use, with the risks poorly understood and with little evidence that they make communities safer, reports The Washington Post. In rural Scott County, Virginia, for instance, cameras equipped with facial recognition scan everyone who walks past them, looking for people barred from public housing. In New Bedford, Massachusetts, the housing authority uses software to find any movement near the doorways of residents suspected of violating overnight guest rules. And in Rolette, North Dakota, 107 cameras watch up to 100 residents—a number of cameras per capita approaching that found in New York’s Rikers Island jail complex.
- Mississippi’s reading miracle. The state went from being ranked the second-worst in the nation in 2013 for fourth-grade reading to 21st in 2022, according to standardized tests. The turnaround has grabbed the attention of educators nationally, showing rapid progress is possible anywhere, even in areas that have struggled for decades with poverty and dismal literacy rates. Mississippi, along with Louisiana and Alabama, passed laws adopting reforms that emphasize phonics and early screenings for struggling kids. All three states have trained thousands of teachers in the so-called science of reading, which refers to the most proven, research-backed methods of teaching reading. They’ve dispatched literacy coaches to help teachers implement that training, especially in low-performing schools. And they aim to catch problems early, which means screening for signs of reading deficiencies or dyslexia as early as kindergarten, informing parents if a problem is found and giving those kids extra support.
- Chicago’s new mayor takes office. In the initial hours after being sworn in as mayor of Chicago on Monday, Brandon Johnson signed his first batch of executive orders, with the majority of the measures establishing new leadership roles in city government and one boosting youth employment. Three of the executive orders established new deputy mayor positions, the first of which is a deputy mayor for immigrant, migrant and refugee rights. Another established a deputy mayor for community safety, who will focus on "eradicating the root causes of crime and violence and advance a comprehensive, healing-centered approach to community safety" and a deputy mayor for labor relations.
- Will Huntsville, Alabama, lose Space Command’s HQ? Some defense and congressional officials believe the White House is laying the groundwork to halt plans to move U.S. Space Command’s headquarters to Alabama in part because of concerns about the state’s restrictive abortion law. The White House directed the Air Force last December to conduct a review of the process that led to the Trump administration’s decision to move Space Command’s headquarters from Colorado to Huntsville, Alabama. The review was ordered in the months after Alabama’s law banning nearly all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest, went into effect last summer. The law is considered among the most restrictive in the U.S. The White House said Alabama’s abortion ban was not a factor in its ongoing review of the decision.
- Judge limits cash bail in L.A. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction barring the city and county from enforcing cash bail requirements for some people who have been arrested but not arraigned. The practice of enforcing cash bail for those who cannot afford to pay “is a clear, pervasive and serious constitutional violation,” Judge Lawrence Riff wrote in his decision Tuesday. The judge ordered Los Angeles officials to drop the current system and abide by an emergency bail schedule that was put in place in October 2020 during the Covid pandemic, beginning May 24. Under that practice, no bail is required for the vast majority of infractions, with exceptions for crimes such as domestic violence, violent felonies and any theft with a loss of more than $100,000.
- Illinois’ assault weapons ban stands—for now. The Supreme Court on Wednesday declined for now to block a new law in Illinois that bans assault-style weapons such as the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, which has been used in multiple mass shootings. The decision, in a brief unsigned order, means the Illinois law will remain in effect while legal challenges continue. Meanwhile, two blue states advanced gun-control measures this week. In Maryland, Gov. Wes Moore signed more than a dozen public safety bills into law, including one that restricts where firearms can be carried, such as preschools, government buildings and polling places, and one that raises the age for qualifying for a handgun permit from 18 to 21. In Minnesota, the legislature passed a so-called red flag law and expanded background checks. An effort in Nevada, though, failed. Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo of Nevada vetoed a trio of gun-control bills Wednesday that would have raised the eligible age to possess semiautomatic shotguns and assault weapons from 18 to 21, would have barred possession of a gun within 100 yards of an election site entrance, and would have prohibited owning a firearm within a decade of a gross misdemeanor or felony hate-crime conviction.
- Alaska passes a “tree” bill. The state House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow Alaska to set up a system for using state land to sell carbon-offset credits. The House action amounted to final passage of the bill, which was approved the previous day by the state Senate and has been a high priority for Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The measure authorizes the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to lease out state land for up to 55 years for the purpose of preserving its powers to absorb atmospheric carbon. Moving slowly through the legislature is a companion bill that would set up a system for storing carbon gases in old oil and gas wells with the purpose of sequestering the greenhouse gases emitted by petroleum production and other industrial activities.
- Disney scraps billion-dollar development in Florida. Last month, when Disney sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies for what it called “a targeted campaign of government retaliation,” the company made clear that $17 billion in planned investment in Walt Disney World was on the line. DeSantis and Disney have been sparring for more than a year over a special tax district that encompasses Disney World. The fight started when the company criticized a Florida education law that opponents labeled “Don’t Say Gay.” On Thursday, Disney showed it was not bluffing, pulling the plug on a nearly $1 billion office complex that was scheduled for construction in Orlando. It would have brought more than 2,000 jobs to the region, with $120,000 as the average salary, according to an estimate from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
- As the Republican walkout continues, 10 Oregon Senators are potentially ineligible for reelection. The ongoing walkout by Senate Republicans hit a meaningful milestone Thursday, as the bulk of the chamber’s GOP members opted to remain absent and potentially forfeit their ability to run again. Six Republicans did not attend a scheduled floor session, each notching their 10th unexcused absence of the session. That’s the threshold, approved overwhelmingly by voters last year with Measure 113, at which lawmakers are disqualified from serving another term. The six lawmakers join four others who hit the mark earlier this week. Measure 113 was supposed to curtail walkouts Republicans have used increasingly to stymie bills. But as of now the measure is failing, and with 10 senators now past an apparent point of no return, it is unclear what leverage will bring them back to the building. Republicans have made clear they will challenge Measure 113 in court.
Picture of the Week
Gloria Molina, the daughter of working-class parents and an unapologetic Chicana who transformed the political landscape of Los Angeles, died Sunday night after a three-year battle with cancer. Molina’s political life had been a series of firsts that inspired generations of women and Latinos to seek public office—the first Latina Assembly member in California, the first Latina on the Los Angeles City Council, the first Latina on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. In Sacramento, she confronted politicians who sought to dump prisons and polluters in her Eastside district. On the city council, she spearheaded efforts to build affordable housing and have street sweepers clean neighborhoods neglected for decades by local officials. As a supervisor, she successfully pushed back against public employee pension spikes and work perks, like a private chef and personal driver for the supervisors. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
What They’re Saying
“We’re not Darth Vader. We are senators and working people.”
Republican Missouri Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, majority leader, in response to fellow Republican Sen. Bill Eigel’s speech denouncing the leadership’s decision to put his proposal to end personal property taxes on the back burner as the legislature ended its session last week. “Here today,” he said, “we have a Darth Vader moment.” O'Laughlin also called Eigel's stall tactic “political theater” that's part of his 2024 gubernatorial aspirations. “We're not all running for governor,” she said.
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