Louisiana senator suspicious of circumstances dooming bill to curb Facebook, Twitter power
A Louisiana bill to allow social media users to sue companies like Facebook and Twitter if they were blocked because of political or religious speech is dead after a House committee failed to reach a quorum under what a senator called dubious circumstances.
Republican Monroe Sen. Jay Morris said the lack of a quorum to debate his Senate Bill 192 in the House Commerce Committee was "suspicious" since he'd had trouble getting a hearing for his bill after it cleared the Senate on a 37-0 vote two weeks ago.
"I've never been to a hearing where there wasn't a quorum," Morris said.
Chair Paul Davis, R-Baton Rouge, attributed the absence of enough members to vote on late notice of the meeting. "For the record it was scheduled late yesterday," Davis said.
Morris dismissed the excuse, saying, "I talked to most people on the committee yesterday so they were aware."
Conservative Republicans have been especially critical of social media companies' decisions on who and what to block.
Former President Trump has been blocked by Twitter and Facebook.
"Right or wrong, social media sites have become the public square," Morris said during the meeting. "If companies censor religious or political speech they should be made to pay for that."
Morris said his bill wouldn't allow users to sue if they were blocked because of violent or pornographic posts.
Social media platforms are protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law that doesn’t recognize them as publishers, giving the companies great leeway on how they manage their sites.
"A small handful of companies decide what we should be able to read and see and hear," Morris said.
After the hearing, Morris said the lack of a quorum illustrates the power of the social media companies.
"It’s very suspicious," he said. "But again, these are extremely powerful interests that do not want this bill to pass. Social media companies have a chokehold on the flow of information and they are not allowing the citizens of Louisiana or the United States, to express their political and religious beliefs consistent with the First Amendment."
With the session ending June 10, there won't time for Morris to get another hearing, effectively killing his bill.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.