A breeding ground for Internet development and high-tech start-ups, California has quickly become a hotbed for online politics with a batch of new Net laws moving toward passage this week.
Not only are Silicon Valley lobbyists increasing their face time in Washington, but the Golden State's legislature has also introduced more than 50 bills this year relating to email, cyberspace, and computers. This week, the legislature is expected to pass new laws that could make campaign records digital, outlaw the online seduction of minors, and put a price on public records sent via email.
Late yesterday, the Assembly passed Democratic Sen. Betty Karnette's bill that requires candidates and other campaigners to report finances online by June 1, 2000, if their total contributions exceed $100,000 in primary elections and $50,000 in general elections. The bill will be sent back to the state Senate for one more vote on some minor amendments.
The Assembly also approved legislation yesterday to bring the Department of Motor Vehicles into the digital age. Under AB 43, the DMV will have to set up a Net site by January 1, 1999, to conduct transactions with the public if the department determines that its average costs will be less over the next ten years than conducting transactions through traditional means. The bill now goes back to the Senate as well.
A bill that makes it a crime to use email to seduce or try to sexually arouse a known minor is also expected to get a final vote from the state Senate this week. The legislation exempts Internet service providers from liability. Republican Rep.Steve Kuykendall's bill will then need one more approval from the Assembly if the Senate pushes it through. Then it will head up to the governor's desk.
Also on the table is legislation that requires state agencies to send requested public documents as well as communicate with citizens over email whenever possible. Republican Sen. Rob Hurtt's bill will "authorize a state agency to require that all costs incurred by the agency involving the electronic transmission of requested information shall be paid by the requester, as specified." It is not clear how much people will be charged for receiving agency emails, which is drawing some criticism as the bill edges toward the finish line.
The deadline to send bills to Gov. Pete Wilson is Friday. He then has a month to sign them.
Aside from this week's cyberlaw activity, the state already has passed mandates on government agencies to provide consumer services and increase disclosure of public information via the Net.
The Citizen Complaint Act was enrolled to the governor last Tuesday. It makes state agencies and universities with Web sites put complaint forms online by July 1, 1998. However, accepting complaints online is not be part of the deal.
The senators' bill will post business and professional licensing information online from records within the departments of Consumer Affairs and Real Estate. For example, the state Board of Behavioral Science Examiners would post on the Net data about marriage, family, and child counselors, such as whether a counselor's license has been suspended or revoked.
Democratic Rep. Liz Figueroa drafted a similar law pertaining to the Medical Board of California. Signed by Wilson late last month, the board now has to publish data about doctors on the Net. If a licensed physician or surgeon has been sued for malpractice, disciplined by the board, or terminated from a hospital, that data will now be online.
New funds for education technology were also approved by state lawmakers this summer.
In August, Wilson approved $100 million in funding for the Digital High School initiative to supply the state's 840 high schools with new computers and Net connections over the next four years.
Last week, Wilson signed AB 1023, which adds computer literacy to the minimum requirements for the California teaching credential by January 1, 2000.