An End of Session Review of Tech Policy in the Texas Legislature

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The Texas legislature is no stranger to high drama and great political theater. This session was no exception. But don’t just move on to planning for the next session or focus on other political fights. Hidden between the bathroom controversy and sanctuary city legislation were bills that had a direct impact on the overall tech sector. You might want to know how Texas handled technology policy this year.

Before we delve into the policy, we first wanted to thank you for reading, forwarding, and genuinely responding to our inaugural Data Foundry Technology Policy Scorecards. We look forward to further earning your trust in our product in future sessions as we dedicate more time and resources to this worthy endeavor. Without further ado, we will examine the highs and lows in tech policy this session.

As the session began to play out, we identified 24 pieces of legislation that met our scorecard criteria. The two simple conditions were that the policy had to have a direct impact on the technology community, and the policy should be on matters of which the legislature had no meaningful expertise. As a result, we didn’t include cultural issues that could impact the technology sector (i.e. the bathroom bill, sanctuary cities), as there are already numerous voices sounding off. We wanted to offer our expertise as participants and authorities on technology matters. Strengthening Texas’ role in the technology industry is something our company’s CEO has long been a proponent of and you can read more about that here.

Of the 24 issues, eight were signed into law by the Governor. For our rating purposes, most of those bills covered multiple key areas of interest related to privacy and innovation. Overall the response to our push for privacy protections were heard and incorporated into final bill language. Data Foundry worked diligently with legislative staff to ensure related bills outlined due process, and set clear standards related to the collection and retention of personal information. Perhaps this session’s greatest achievement was HB 9, which created new cybercrimes for unlawful access, interference, and illegal decryption.

HB 9 took an additional step that no other states have taken – it defends the individual’s right to encryption – which in some places has been unreasonably vilified or subjected to extra scrutiny. We view encryption as a good thing – “the second amendment for the Internet,” – and believe that individuals taking extra precautions to protect their private information is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity.

The legislature also did the state a huge favor this session by limiting local government’s ability to hinder innovation. The signing of HB 100, which was made effective immediately, created a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing services, overriding any existing municipal ordinances that were in place. Statewide policies like these give the Texas technology industry a clearer path to grow and innovate. Unfortunately, neither SB 451 nor HB 2551 passed this session. These bills would have prohibited over-burdensome regulation of short-term rentals (such as Airbnb) at the local level. Local bans on short-term rentals hurt an innovative industry and local economies as well as trample on the rights of property owners.

Several cyberbullying bills were proposed this session. We had been very critical of all versions of the legislation, but in the end, we were content with the final language in SB 179. The authors resolved some serious issues with the bill’s obvious First Amendment violations, but kept open the potential for violations because of their lack of explicit service provider protections. We will monitor this law closely and report any unintended consequences.

Finally, we found it most disappointing that HB 3274, a bill originally proposed to create the position of a Chief Innovation and Technology officer within the Office of the Governor, was not given the attention and consideration it deserved. Eventually the position was relegated to the Department of Information Resources as just another bureaucratic position, and then failed to make it out of committee. Texas is not in need of another symbolic bureaucratic position, but rather a meaningful senior advisor that will serve as the foundation for institutional knowledge of Technology issues in the State of Texas. Such a position would have elevated the technology industry’s role within the state government to reflect the importance our industry holds for Texas.

We would rate this session as “good” for technology in Texas, but there is still much room to grow. Specifically, we would like to see the state create institutions that will form the brain trust Texas should have on technology issues, and move even further toward greater privacy protections for Texans. We look forward to evaluating new policies and engaging you on these issues in the future.

See the final ratings for technology bills given on our Texas Policy Scorecards.