Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee State Representative Dennis Powers to discuss the nature of his bill HB2369 that would require Big Tech powerhouses to register with the Tennessee Public Utility Commission to regulate the banning and de-platforming of citizens.
Leahy: We are joined now on our newsmaker line by State Representative Dennis Powers from East Tennessee, up in Jacksboro. Welcome, Representative Powers.
Powers: Thank you, Michael. Today is a great day. It’s moving day that they would get to go back home to our families and our day jobs.
Powers: We always look forward to Thursday.
Leahy: Yes. You come in Monday, you work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Then you get to go back home. And it is a bit of a sacrifice, isn’t it, to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly, especially if you’re from East Tennessee? And it’s a long drive home and it’s a lot of extra work, isn’t it?
Powers: Yeah, it really is. It’s about a three-and-a-half-hour drive, and you only get to go to work, as I do, you only get to go in the office one day a week, which is on Friday. So I told someone my income has gone down every year. (Laughter)
Simon: Well, thanks for doing it.
Leahy: That’s Roger Simon, by the way, saying hello. You’re an insurance agent, right? In your real life.
Powers: Yes. And it’s hard to do business. I have some great people in my office covering for me, but it’s really tough to do business when you’re not doing it one-on-one. But this is a great honor and I’m not complaining at all. I love doing this job, and it’s really a great honor to get to do it.
Leahy: You have introduced a very interesting bill. It was our lead story yesterday, “Social Media Law Preventing Users from Being Blocked Advances in the Tennessee House.” The law would require social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, and Google, to register with the Tennessee Public Utility Commission and be subject to fines if they are found to have banned or shadow-banned users. Tell us about this law. Why are you sponsoring it and what are its prospects?
Powers: Over the past few years, we have seen what’s happening nationally and even locally to our candidates that have been de-platformed, banned, or shadow-banned. And this bill really comes to me from a growing number of concerns and outrage from our constituents around the state who have been blocked.
So we’ve been trying to figure out a way to do this and do it constitutionally. And that’s what this whole bill is around. It was based on an opinion by Clarence Thomas in the case of Biden versus Knight.
And he said that if the problem is a private, concentrated control over online content and platforms available to the public then part of the solution may be found in doctrines that limit the right of private companies to exclude.
He said in many ways, digital platforms hold themselves up to the public to resemble traditional common carriers. He thought that would be the only type of bill that would pass constitutional muster.
And they already have Rule 230. We’re not trying to do anything to it. But we just want to make sure that political speech, political viewpoints, as long as they’re not under that filing of that Rule 230, where they’re lewd, obscene, or some way harassing or criminal time.
Simon: I want to say to you, this is Roger Simon here. Congratulations for doing this. You’re talking to someone who has been banned on Twitter. They took away about 30,000 followers from me, all told.
So I kind of take it a little personally, but I then got off Twitter altogether because it was impossible, other than enter into a lawsuit with Twitter, which would have been an insane experience, to rectify what happened to me.
But not just me. I know tons of people that this has happened to. This is totalitarian and extreme. So I think your approach is right-on, as we used to say. And I couldn’t applaud you more for doing this. In fact, if we could get two or three states to do this, it would be a big change.
Powers: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah, I’ve had my own family members banned. We had another member of the Republican Party of Knox County got banned for two weeks on Facebook.
There have been so many people and they control 97 percent of the market, and they have a lot of power, because we’ve seen a lot of pushback. I had no idea it was going to be that bad.
But over the past two or three weeks, we’ve seen what they can do. And they have banned so many different people and simply nothing that falls under Rule 230. It’s just that something they may classify as misinformation.
Simon: Rule 230 is kind of bland, really, and not clear enough. Everybody wants to revise it, but your approach seems to be, to me, is better. I mean, make them into public utilities and then that’s it. It’s a level playing field.
Leahy: What are the prospects that this bill will pass in the House and the Senate and then be signed into law by Governor Lee?
Powers: I think the prospects are great. I was amazed at how much support we’ve had for it within the legislature. I’ve already passed it through both of the committees. I had to go through a subcommittee and then a full committee.
And now all we’re waiting for is to go through the finance committee. It’s already passed in the Senate, and it’s waiting for the finance committee. So the only roadblock that we have, I think right now is there was a physical note on it of about $330,000.
We’ve been working with Tennessee Public Utility Commission and the physical review department. We’ve got that note down to about $100,000. We’re still trying to work on that and use some vacant positions that they can use to handle this.
Simon: If there is anything ever worth $100,000, it’s this.
Leahy: But it’s always the case that you want to have, like, no fiscal note. That makes it easier. The opposition is out there to throw a curveball here at you. Let me read this story from The Center Square and get your reaction.
“The Vice President and general counsel of NetChoice, which successfully has been granted injunctions against similar laws in Florida and Texas on First Amendment grounds,” said,
however, the Tennessee laws – your bill, HB 2369 – not only violates the First Amendment but also would cost taxpayers for the added regulation and legal battle that would follow.
What we’re seeing right now is lawmakers in the state of Tennessee following the same failed legal footsteps of Florida and Texas NetChoice’s Carl Sabo said. Your response?
Powers: Sure, and that is incorrect. With any bill, first of all, anybody can sue anybody for anything and they’ve already told me that they have a lot of lawyers, and they do. But here’s the difference.
First of all our bill is nothing like Florida’s bill, but it is kind of similar to the Texas bill. And the Texas bill used the language that made it – the way to describe it was “adjacent to a common carriage.” They said that the purposes for prohibiting viewpoint discrimination are like common carriers.
The distinction between that and what we’re doing is we’re actually making or designating them as a common carrier, saying they’re like a common carrier, and by doing that they fall under the Tennessee Public Utility Commission, and we can regulate them that way. So our bill is different from those two, and I think we have a great point going forward, and I think it’ll pass constitutional muster.
Listen to the full interview:
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