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| What's next for US state-level AI legislation Related reading: US policymakers, regulators discuss future of AI regulation at AIGG



While the picture is becoming clearer on the U.S. response to artificial intelligence policy, there's much to be learned about if U.S. states will follow the federal path or go their own way.

Government use, algorithmic discrimination and so-called "deepfake" election advertisements are among the top AI priorities for state lawmakers heading into the 2024 legislative season, state Sen. James Maroney, D-Conn., told attendees of the inaugural IAPP AI Governance Global. AIGG is a first-of-its-kind conference focused on the professionalization of AI governance.

Maroney, a co-chair of the Connecticut General Assembly General Law Committee, said he has been working with an informal group of state lawmakers across the country, along with the Future of Privacy Forum, to discuss AI issues and how to address them at the legislative level. He said lawmakers working together to have similar legislation would result in better policy overall rather than if they worked alone.

"I think states can get things done more quickly than the federal government," he told the crowd. "And I think by aligning definitions, hopefully makes it a little easier for you guys to comply with."

The informal dialogue sets the stage for what could be a big legislative year for AI with growing concerns about the technology's impacts on employment, mental health and democracy.

The plunge into state-level AI policy began in 2023 as the National Conference of State Legislatures found 25 states, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, introduced AI-focused legislation this year. Over half of those states and Puerto Rico enacted legislation.

Connecticut set itself among the 2023 state-level AI successes with the help of Maroney and the General Law Committee. The general assembly passed Senate Bill 1103, which originally contained ambitious AI rules before passing with requirements and obligations mostly left to state government agencies.

The bill assigned the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management the responsibility of developing AI policies and procedures for public entities by 1 Feb. 2024. The office will produce guidance to agencies that ensure they avoid unlawful discrimination with AI deployments and help them perform informal impact assessments. The Department of Administrative Services is responsible for formal assessments of agencies' AI systems.

Maroney's prior and existing AI aspirations add to his resume on tech policy. He was one of the architects of the Connecticut Data Privacy Act, a comprehensive data privacy law passed in 2022 giving residents certain rights of their personal data and set in place protection standards for data controllers. 

Part of the informal group's work has been looking at states that have already tackled tough privacy and AI issues and seeing what legislation has worked, Maroney said. He cited his state's own law, along with a New York bill on deepfakes, as possible templates for others to draw from. Referencing those bills is necessary, he said, because many lawmakers in the group do not have technology backgrounds.

But those that do have experience, such as one member who worked at Microsoft and another that worked as a lawyer, have helped the group work through the trickier issues.

"Ultimately, we're all trying to do what's best for our constituents," he said. "It's just we may not always agree on what that is."

The biweekly working group consists over almost 30 states and 100 lawmakers and their staff, Maroney said. It was conceptualized as he worked on his own state's privacy bill and began chatting with state Sen. Robert Rodriguez, D-Colo., who was working on Colorado's own privacy act. He realized it was important not just to share expertise on the topic, but strategies on how bills were getting passed and how to ensure stakeholders could comply.

"I think one of the disadvantages as legislators is that when you're in different states, you get in your own state silo," Maroney said. "And you don't necessarily know what other states are working on. … For me, it was important to check everything I was hearing from other states to build that relationship."

But Maroney warned that those interested in AI and privacy legislation should look carefully at what is being proposed, noting different legislatures have different standards for how draft bills can be submitted. He expects that the election year will result in many bills that "pander" to "flavor of the month issues" instead of more substantive policy work.

That, he said, could make it difficult for businesses and privacy professionals to do their job down the road.

"I think it's always up to residents to reach out to their legislators, to you as professionals to try and and give your perspective on how hard it would be to comply if that bill passed," Maroney said.

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