By Nicole Vukonich
Before the 2019 legislative session began, the governor and leaders in the House and Senate stated their intention to prioritize legislation protecting consumer data privacy. Bolstered by the efforts of the European Union in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect in May 2018, and a similar law that passed in California, lawmakers, in Olympia, were eager to pass legislation in Washington during the 2019 session.
Two identical companion bills were introduced, House Bill 1854 and Senate Bill 5376, addressing consumer data privacy. The bills would create the Washington Privacy Act and added data privacy regulations and requirements in addition to addressing other technology issues like facial recognition. The logic in having two identical bills go through the legislative process is that you have twice the chance to get a bill passed. The risk of this method is that the bills can be changed and may quickly become entirely separate bills from their original identical state. This is what happened this session in the House and Senate.
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Working with the business community, stakeholders and the sponsor of the bill to find a workable solution on this issue for our members, the Senate version, as amended, included the changes the State Government Affairs team fought for on behalf of the hospitality industry. These changes included the removal of a private right of action, meaning a company could not be sued by a private attorney if a person took issue with how the company handled their data. The Washington Hospitality Association also fought for an exemption for businesses who use data for their own direct marketing purposes. This would allow hospitality businesses who do their own email marketing to continue to do so without penalties. The Senate version of the bill passed and went to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Instead of moving the Senate version of the bill along in the House, the bill was changed back to the House version of the bill and stripped of the changes for which the State team had fought. Additional challenges among other stakeholder groups and on other facets of the bill ultimately stalled its progress from passing during the 2019 session. Given a new opportunity in the 2020 legislative session, the State Government Affairs team will continue to work on this bill ensuring hospitality businesses may comply under the law.