In the last two months, we have kept you up to date on the progress of California Senate Bill 561, Jackson (D – Santa Barbara), a bill backed by the California Attorney General that would add a full private right of action to the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (the “CCPA”), allowing any California consumer to sue any company subject to the CCPA for any violation of the CCPA, no matter how small. SB 561 has touched off what is perhaps the most bitter fight between privacy and business interests over amendments to California’s hastily drafted new privacy law.

On April 29, 2019, SB 561 was heard in the California Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Committee responsible for overseeing the state’s budget. Compared to SB 561’s explosive first hearing before the Senate Rules Committee, Monday’s hearing, at which the Appropriations Committee heard 49 bills, was a dull affair and included no testimony at all.  At the hearing, SB 561 was placed in the Committee’s suspense file by a unanimous vote of 6-0.

The suspense file, an opaque procedure that allows the Committee to consider the fiscal impact of all bills in the suspense file at once after the Committee has a sense of the budget for the fiscal year, and prioritize bills based on how the Committee wants to spend the State’s money.  Sometimes called “the place where good bills go to die”, the Appropriations Committee votes on bills in the suspense file on or just before the last day for fiscal committees to report bills to the floor.  This year, that deadline is May 17.

However, businesses should not take the moniker too seriously – it merely refers to the fact that bills in the suspense file are voted on essentially in secret, with no public testimony permitted. This procedure allows the Committee to kill bills without having to vote against them publicly.  It does not indicate that all – or even most – bills in the suspense file will not make it to the floor (the vast majority of the 49 bills considered at Monday’s hearing were placed in the suspense file).

Of note, despite the fact that Senator Jackson promised during the April 9 hearing of the Senate Rules Committee to work with business interests and other senators to consider alternative means of enforcement apart from a full private right of action, SB 561 has not been amended; it remains in its original form, private right of action and all. If the bill survives the suspense procedure, it will be reported to the Senate floor for a vote.

The referral of SB 561 to the suspense file is not a surprise. We will have to wait until the middle of May to know whether SB 561 will get a floor vote in the Senate.  If it garners at least 21 votes on the Senate floor, the bill will move on to the Assembly for consideration.