Tomorrow is the deadline for fiscal committees to report bills to the floor of the California legislative chambers. So, today, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a special hearing on all bills previously placed in the suspense file. For those following the CCPA, the focus was on SB 561 introduced by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D – Santa Barbara), and co-authored by Attorney General Xavier Becerra. SB 561 is a fairly simple bill that would have made three changes to the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (the “CCPA”): (1) add a complete and unfettered private right of action, allowing any California consumer to sue over any CCPA violation, no matter how small or technical; (2) remove the 30-day safe harbor period from the CCPA, allowing lawsuits to be brought without notice to the company or an opportunity to cure; and (3) eliminate the right of businesses to seek the opinion of the Attorney General regarding compliance with the privacy law.
The Senate Appropriations Committee suspense file is a holding tank for bills that are likely to have a fiscal impact of $50,000 or more on the State’s general fund. Placing bills that will have a large effect on the State’s budget in the suspense file is supposed to allow the Appropriations Committee to hear all bills together, assessing their impact on the budget as a whole, and allowing the Committee to determine which bills the State can afford at this time. In reality, though, the suspense file process is a highly partisan and political one that allows Committee members to quietly kill bills for any number of reasons. It is for this reason that the suspense file is known as “the place where good bills go to die.”
Today, the Appropriations Committee Chairman Anthony J. Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge) addressed bills in the suspense file by author, and then by bill number. When it came time for the Committee to address Senator Jackson’s bills, Chairman Portantino announced the recommendation of the Committee for the passage of Senate Bill 551 (a bill completely unrelated to the CCPA), and then announced, with a smile, that he was moving on to bills by Senator Brian W. Jones (R – El Cajon), signaling that the Committee had decided, by a secret vote, to hold SB 561 in Committee, killing it. As most spectators rose to leave at that time, Chairman Protantino instructed the room to “breathe and stretch for a moment” to allow spectators to exit and to report that the CCPA will not add a private right of action this year.
It remains possible for another bill to be amended to include some expanded enforcement of the CCPA, and the CCPA still permits private lawsuits (including class actions) in the case of data breaches. But Senator Jackson’s and the Attorney General Becerra’s efforts to add an additional private right of action to the CCPA and to destroy businesses’ ability to utilize the CCPA’s safe-harbor has ended, at least for this legislative session.