State Sen. Jay Morris' legislation to make major social media companies liable for civil damages if they censored a user's political or religious speech was blocked from advancing out of a House committee last week because of no quorum.
Only six members of the House Committee on Commerce, chaired by Rep. Paula Davis, were present on June 3, around 11:19 a.m., for the committee hearing scheduled 19 minutes earlier that morning.
Morris, whose Senate Bill 196 was the only item up for consideration, questioned whether the lack of a quorum was a calculated effort to stop his legislation.
Morris said he spoke with most members of the committee before the hearing.
“And they were all aware of it,” said Morris, R-West Monroe.
Senate Bill 196 proposes making social media companies with 75 million users or more liable to actual damages, up to $75,000 in statutory damages and punitive damages under certain conditions. The proposed legislation would obviously apply to companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Morris has referred to other “Big Tech” bills approved by other state's legislatures when defending his legislation to protect users' First Amendment rights.
After learning there was no quorum for last week's hearing, Morris said, with a hint of sarcasm, “Madame chair, I am shocked—shocked—there's not a quorum.”
“It doesn't look like I'm going to get a vote on this important bill,” Morris said. “Madame chair, the bill that would've been before you if a quorum had been present, which suspiciously is not. I've never been to a committee where there was never a quorum.”
Morris offered a statement defending his legislation. According to Morris, major social media companies had considerable influence in shaping public discussions and public opinions by determining what users should be able to see or hear.
“If there was a theory that the coronavirus originated in a lab, that theory or social media post relating to that, suggesting that, would be censored and wiped off until the presidency changed and the powers that be decided it was okay to theorize that,” Morris said. “For the better part of a year, anyone who put out information about that would be deleted or knocked off social media sites.”
“Those social media sites have become the public square, the way by which information is delivered,” he added.
According to Morris, the Federal Communications Commission's Fairness Rule was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, requiring media companies to report both sides of a matter. Such a rule was analogous to his proposed legislation because voices should not be censored in the public square, according to Morris.
Davis, the committee chairman, interjected and could be seen saying, “We don't have audio,” though the room's broadcast recording equipment appeared to be in working order.
“I have confirmed with the Attorney General's office that they have no issue with the case,” said Morris, before Davis interjected.
“What I was going to tell you is that we have no audio,” said Davis, before laughing.
“No quorum, no audio,” Morris replied.