***Update 3/25/22 – HB2369 has been placed on the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee for 3/30/22. Article has been updated with contact information for the Committee members.
Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
The “Common Carrier Bill” that would stop social media censorship of Tennessee elections and citizens passed the full House Commerce Committee yesterday (March 22nd) and will now move forward to the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
The Ayes prevailed in a voice vote with two Republican committee members voting with the Democrats against passage of the bill. Representative Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain-District 27) and Representative Eddie Mannis (R-Knoxville-District 18) voting No along with Democrats Powell and Thompson.
In presenting his bill, sponsor Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro-District 36) cited an opinion by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, “In many ways digital platforms that hold themselves out to the public resemble traditional common carriers,” and stated that the legislation would not mean a growth in government and that its aim is to protect the free speech of Tennesseans.
Powers has been working with the Tennessee Public Utility Commission (TPUC) and they believe the legislation is Constitutional under U.S. Public Title 47, Chapter 5, Subchapter 2, Section 30.
Powers said that legislation would “simply bring these (social media) companies under the Common Carrier law so that Tennesseans and the public at large are not discriminated against.”
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Designates social media platforms (SMPs) as common carriers and requires the entities to obtain certificates of public convenience and necessity (CCNs) from the Tennessee Public Utilities Commission (TPUC) by April 1, 2023, and by January 1, 2024 for each year thereafter.
Requires TPUC to prescribe by rule in consultation with the office of the Attorney General and Reporter (AG) the form and fee for the certificate application. Authorizes TPUC to prescribe an equitable fee schedule based on each SMP’s gross annual revenue or the number of global platform participants. Requires SMP operators to file certain information as part of the application for a certificate. If TPUC finds that a SMP operator is operating without a valid CCN or has failed to provide TPUC with all information required, TPUC is required to provide SMP operators with written notice of failure to comply. If, after 60 days, the operator remains out of compliance, then TPUC shall conduct a contested case hearing in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act and may fine the operator up to $50,000 at TPUC’s discretion.
Establishes that SMPs may not intentionally deplatform or shadow ban a user of the SMP based on various factors. Authorizes TPUC to investigate suspected violations and conduct contested case hearings. Prescribes penalties and fines that TPUC may issue for violations.
Upon a finding of a violation after a contested case hearing, a user is authorized to bring a private cause of action and may be awarded various damages, costs, and fees.
Effective upon becoming law for purposes of promulgating rules and carrying out administrative duties; effective for all other purposes on April 1, 2023.
FISCAL IMPACT OF BILL AS AMENDED: Increase State Expenditures –$100,600 / FY22-23 and Subsequent Years/ Tennessee Public Utilities Commission
Other Fiscal Impact – The proposed legislation may result in an increase in state fee and fine revenue to Tennessee Public Utilities Commission. However, the exact timing and extent of such increase cannot be reasonably determined. To the extent the Commission is unable to collect sufficient revenue from social media platforms to offset incurred expenditures, a General Fund appropriation is assumed to be necessary.
Further, additional staff for the Commission and the Administrative Office of the Courts may be necessary in the future; due to lack of data, the extent and timing of any increase in expenditures cannot be determined at this time.
During the meeting, Cameron Sholty, Director of Government Relations from the Heartland Institute, offered testimony in support of the legislation, “As of today, 97% of all social media traffic flows through just three firms…I find the value of online free speech and having a robust political and sometimes religious discourse on social media. What we’re seeing is that the de facto public square (social media) is enforcing, oftentimes, government narratives,” Sholty said.
Representatives Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna-District 49) and Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville-District 14) spoke in favor of the bill.
Sparks said “If we lose this (the First Amendment), this experiment in Democracy is over with. I know the Second Amendment is important to all of us but if we don’t have the First Amendment, we can’t talk about the Second Amendment.”
Zachary said, “The Federal Government inserted themselves into this (social media) world with the Communications Decency Act of 1996. That is where Facebook, Twitter, whomever, has this immunity and they have taken that immunity to censor, deplatform and shadowban in particular, certain voices.”
Citing the current law, Zachary stated that it only references obscene, lewd, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or objectionable material. “It does not talk about point of views, it does not talk about viewpoints, it does not talk about political opinion,” Zachary said.
Zachary stated that the unfair censorship issues should have been dealt with on the federal level long ago but, “Since they failed to do that, that is left to the States to do what the States can to step in on the protection, to protect the free speech of Tennesseans.
Zachary brought attention to the Social Media lobbyists by saying, “ I’m not interested in what Facebook, Twitter and Google (has to say), as they work against this bill and they work members of this committee and every Tennessean needs to know that… I’m not concerned about what they think we should do. I’m concerned about what my constituents think we should do and my constituents want their free speech protected.”
Representatives Eddie Mannis (R-Knoxville-District 18) and Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain-District 27) spoke against the legislation.
Mannis said, “Facebook and Google and maybe there’s several others, they are publicly-traded companies but they are still private companies. If my memory serves me right, we’ve said many times before that we can’t be telling private companies what they can do and what they can’t do.”
Hazlewood said, “It’s a bit of a stretch to see the commonality between a common carrier, as we normally define it, and what we’re talking about here.” She also brought up concerns about additional costs associated with the procedures and enforcement that would be brought about by the passage of the legislation.
Representative Dennis Powers told the Tennessee Conservative, “I got the note reduced from $300,000 to $100,000.”
Powers stated during the meeting that this note reduction resulted from working with TPUC with the goal being that it will actually pay for itself through fines and fees.
Before the vote was taken, Powers closed by stating “We wish the federal government would have dealt with this years ago, and they should have but because they have not, it’s gone back to the States. The States created the Federal Government, so we really have that obligation – if the Federal Government is not doing their job, we need to step in. This is going to be model legislation for other states. The Common Carrier Law is one that we feel has Constitutional muster, it’s the one that Judge Thomas said would work.”
With the bill passing out of the full House Commerce Committee with Ayes prevailing, the bill will now head to the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee to be heard on Wednesday, March 30th, 2022. You can find the Republican member’s contact information below:
House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee – Republican Members:
Patsy Hazlewood (chair) – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-2746
Charlie Baum (vice-chair) – email@example.com – (615) 741-6849
Scotty Campbell – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-2050
John Crawford – email@example.com – (615) 741-7623
Jeremy Faison – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-6871
Ron Gant – email@example.com – (615) 741-6890
Johnny Garrett – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-3893
John Gillespie – email@example.com – (615) 741-8201
David Hawk – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-7482
Gary Hicks – email@example.com – (615) 741-7480
William Lamberth – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-1980
Susan Lynn – email@example.com – (615) 741-7462
Brandon Ogles – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-6808
Jerry Sexton – email@example.com – (615) 741-2534
Mike Sparks – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-6829
Chris Todd – email@example.com – (615) 741-7475
Sam Whitson – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-1864
Ryan Williams – email@example.com – (615) 741-1875
Jason Zachary – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-2264
On the Senate side, the bill (SB2161) passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on March 15th with all the Republicans voting Aye. It will next appear on the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, but it has not appeared on their calendar at the time of this article’s publication.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com