2024 Tech Policy Climate: The Outlook at the State Level

Back To News

Your forecasters at the Glen Echo Group have been hard at work reflecting on the biggest tech policy events of 2023 ― and predicting what’s ahead for 2024. With chaos in Congress this past year, states across the country picked up the baton on many of the hottest tech policy issues, including AI, content moderation and kids’ safety and privacy.

In the first in a series of posts on tech policy predictions, Senior Associate Miranda Neil forecasts what's ahead in the states, and content moderation is at the top of that list.

Miranda1 color

Miranda Neil is a Senior Associate at the Glen Echo Group. She assists a range of technology clients with media relations, policy research and content development. Prior to joining Glen Echo Group, Miranda served as a Canvas Director for the Fund for Equality. She started her tech public affairs career as a communications intern at the Internet Association where she worked on many internet and tech policy issues.

Which states have been the most active in trying to pass tech policy regulations?

The usual suspects ― California, New York and Texas ― were the most active legislatures on tech policy, but Minnesota, Utah, Louisiana, Florida and New Jersey also made the list. And while those states were all working to pass tech policy regulations, it doesn’t mean all of them were successful. For example, New Jersey enacted two out of 16 introduced bills about technology this year while Louisiana enacted all four of its introduced bills and Utah enacted two out of five introduced bills. However, it is important to note that just because a bill is enacted, that doesn’t mean the policy will ultimately prevail. There are quite a few ongoing lawsuits, and with more and more tech policies being enacted by state legislatures, the trend indicates more litigation will arise.

What issues in particular are receiving the most attention?

A lot of kids’ online safety and privacy bills popped up throughout 2023, many of them around “parental surveillance tools,” “age verification” and “age of consent online.” Content moderation remains a focal point for state legislators, following the ”neutral viewpoint” approach we’ve seen in Florida and Texas where both states passed bills restricting social media platforms from removing certain political accounts or posts (now at SCOTUS, stay tuned). We’ve also seen bills addressing age verification for adult content sites. These bills, some of which have been enacted, include provisions that require any user to submit authenticated age information if they wish to enter a website that publishes or distributes material harmful to minors. And while there are different definitions set out about “harmful to minors,” most of these bills target sites that contain pornography.

Age verification laws, both for minors wishing to create social media accounts and anyone wishing to view adult content sites, have already been passed in several states including Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah and Louisiana, but these proposals are controversial and in some cases (like in Texas) these bills have already been halted or struck down by federal judges.

Do the arguments around these issues differ between political parties?

Yes and no. Oftentimes, both parties agree that “Big Tech” needs to be accountable in some capacity, especially to protect children and we see similar sentiments from the public. That said, the parties differ in what protecting children online looks like and even what they’re protecting children from.

In terms of actual legislation or bills introduced, red states tend to skew more toward age verification, parental verification and monitoring tools while blue states and legislatures that require more bipartisan support are more likely to look at implementing a “duty of care” legislation, which would be a legal obligation for tech companies to prevent harm and protect their users.

What were the most significant pieces of tech legislation passed in the 2023 state legislative sessions, and why?

Utah’s “Social Media Usage Amendments” and “Social Media Regulation Amendments,” Texas’s HB 18, Louisiana’s SB 162 and Mississippi’s SB 2346 are just a few examples of very consequential tech legislation that passed in 2023. The bills in Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas all include some form of age verification for minors. These laws are important when looking at the freedom of access to information and speech for minors.

Another law worth particular mention is Montana’s SB 419, which bans app stores from offering TikTok to Montana users. In a very recent development, a preliminary injunction on the ban was granted by the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. As one of the most significant pieces of tech legislation passed at the state level this year, this will be something to keep an eye on.

Additionally, California’s AB 1394, which aims to punish websites that are “knowingly facilitating, aiding, or abetting commercial sexual exploitation” of children is another high-profile piece of legislation to pass this year. While the California law, on its face, has admirable intentions, there are many concerns that the law violates the First Amendment and unintentionally encourages platforms to either severely under-moderate or aggressively over-moderate content.

There are other pieces inside of California’s AB 1394 that would require building out parental monitoring tools on social media sites or requiring a “verified parent” to have access to a child’s social media account.

What effect, if any, does state tech policy have on federal tech policy? Why does state tech policy matter?

State tech policy has taken the lead in moving actual legislation forward, but I wouldn’t say that it always affects what the federal government does. Some might argue that gridlock on the federal side continues to drive the states to move ahead with certain priorities. We’ve seen this happen in California, of course, which has taken the lead on privacy. We are already seeing the same pattern with AI, though it’s far more exploratory.

How do you stay on top of these issues? Are there other indicators besides news coverage?

It’s mostly figuring out where the politics storm is ripe for something like this. The states one would assume, like California, New York, Texas and Florida, all make sense to stay engaged on, but others like Utah, Arkansas, Louisiana and Minnesota are more unassuming, but they are also states where one party controls both chambers in the legislature and the governor’s office.

What do we expect to see in state tech policy in 2024? Where will these battles heat up?

I expect to see more bills around AI in the next legislative season. Several states have already supported funding for AI committees to conduct more research and that will likely be followed by more prescriptive legislation in 2024. And, I definitely expect more kids’ online safety bills, particularly age verification in red states. Beyond just bills and laws, we’re also seeing a lot of state Attorneys General wading into tech policy. This can be seen in multistate lawsuits against tech companies and letters sent to platforms about concerns over minors’ safety. Depending on how the Supreme Court rules on Florida and Texas social media laws, we could see more of those, too. I think we’ll continue to see more age-verification bills for both kids and “adult content” websites.

Do you have questions about tech regulations in the states? Are you looking to develop a strategy to more effectively engage at the state level? We can help ― contact us. And keep an eye out for the next post in our series, featuring a breakdown of all that’s happening in tech policy at the federal level, as well as what’s ahead in the EU.