Tech Issues Mostly Absent on Vote-A-Rama Docket

Tech issues mostly slipped off the docket of this week’s vote-a-rama amendment marathon.

The special Senate session, where unlimited amendments are allowed so long as they’re deemed germane to the budget resolution, S. Con. Res. 11, ended up focusing more on climate change and defense spending. While the amendments are largely symbolic – the budget resolution is nonbinding – they can signal the prospects for legislation after senators return from a two-week recess on April 13.

Two tech amendments, proposed but never offered on the floor during vote-a-rama, would have taken the Senate’s temperature on a pair of controversial bills winding their way through the legislature.

One proposed by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) would have amounted to a preliminary vote on a pending cybersecurity bill – S. 754, sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) – that would allow companies to share information on cyber threats with the government. The amendment voiced support for the “sharing of cybersecurity threat information while protecting individual privacy and civil liberties interests.”

That language echoes the conversation around Burr’s cybersecurity bill, which has met with opposition from privacy groups and some civil liberties-minded lawmakers such as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The Senate Intelligence Committee last week approved the measure 14-1, and a similar measure won unanimous approval by the House Intelligence Committee.

A vote during last night’s session could have signaled support for the bill in the Senate beyond the committee level. During the 113th Congress the House passed a similar cybersecurity bill, while a related measure got bogged down in the Senate Intelligence Committee because of privacy concerns.

An amendment filed by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) but never voted on would have gauged support for S. 177, which would require companies to notify customers whose personal data has been compromised. The amendment called for “protecting the personal information of consumers from data breaches, which may include providing notification to affected consumers or enhancing data security programs,” in essence mimicking the data breach bill introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

That measure is awaiting action in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, whereas a similar House bill, H.R. 1704, won approval by voice vote in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.

The vote-a-rama agenda turned to tech only briefly – long enough for the Senate to adopt by voice vote an amendment “protecting the open Internet and promoting further innovation and investment in Internet services.”

The amendment is a potential signal for bipartisan legislation on the controversial issue of net neutrality – a term used interchangeably with “open internet.”

The amendment was proposed by a pair of lawmakers who have recently flirted with such a compromise: Nelson and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the ranking member and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, respectively.

“The amendment reaffirms the two lawmakers’ commitment to exploring whether Congress can craft a truly bipartisan solution on net neutrality,” Bryan Gulley, the minority communications director for the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote yesterday in an email.

Last week Nelson said that he remains open to “true bipartisan congressional action” on the FCC’s decision last month to regulate the internet as a public utility.

An earlier draft of the Thune amendment said it “protects against regulatory overreach, and does not rely on public utility regulations.” That language echoes many Republicans’ contention that the FCC ruling was a power grab by the Obama administration, a line they’ve repeated in recent weeks but one that was absent in the revised amendment.

Another amendment that was filed but didn’t receive a vote was submitted by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). The proposal would’ve taken up the partisan charge conspicuously absent in the revised Thune amendment by “preventing the Federal Communication Commission from reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers under title II of the Communications Act.”

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