US House may kill anti-hate bill after typo

Story by Angelique Christmez, Angelique Christmez/CNET

WASHINGTON — The legislation to reform anti-hate policy in the communications industry is at risk after Democrats in the US House of Representatives issued an unusual veto threat.

US Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, submitted a notice Friday, saying his chamber’s disapproval could “amend or repeal” a “bill to modernize the anti-discrimination provisions in the Communications Act.”

The measure is part of the Communications Act, a decades-old set of laws affecting how US companies handle the regulation of the internet and other technologies. It was last updated in 1996.

The agenda item was posted on the congressional website in error for less than 30 minutes, but was picked up by a number of news outlets Monday. The omission made it clear that the language it would be removed was intended to kill the anti-hate bill, and not merely change its intent.

Pocan’s statement expressed regret for the error, but also warned that the goal of the bill was at risk.

“Any message to kill the Communications Act reform because of a typo is a message to kill the Communications Act reform,” Pocan said in a statement. “Letting this lapse would be an important step backwards. Fortunately, it’s not up to me. It’s up to my colleagues.”

CNN reached out to the House Republican leadership office for comment, but has not heard back.

On the Senate side, Democrats signed a letter to their Senate colleagues in opposition to any further use of the amendment process for such a measure, Politico reported.

The Alliance for Online Responsibility, an advocacy group that supports the anti-hate bill, said the deletions would pave the way for discriminatory companies to “get away with it.”

“We are very concerned that the Republican leadership is trying to intentionally undercut efforts to end the harassment of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and all marginalized communities online,” Erich Bloch, the executive director of AIRE, said in a statement.

Supporters of the bill include the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, and other influential groups that advocate for social justice causes. Earlier this month, the bill won a key procedural vote in the House and was under review in the Senate.

The internet industries say the bill would improve the current state of protection for Americans when it comes to online harassment. A key provision of the current rules mandates that content providers who allow abuse on their platforms have a responsibility to block or remove it. But companies also have exemptions under that statute, if they can show that they were “the inadvertent targets” of abuse.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, would remove the exemptions and create a level playing field for all companies when it comes to complying with the Communications Act’s anti-discrimination provisions. The bill would reauthorize the FCC’s rulemaking authority over internet service providers.

The bill’s final passage seems to have been on hold due to private negotiations between the bill’s sponsors and top White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. The House committee has not yet reviewed the amendment with which Pocan objected.

The bill previously failed in the House, after Democrats flipped four seats in the election.

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