AI regulation: A state-by-state roundup of AI bills

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Wondering where AI regulation stands in your state? Today, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) released The State of State AI Policy, a roundup of AI-related bills at the state and local level that were passed, introduced or failed in the 2021-2022 legislative session.  

Within the past year, according to the document, states and localities have passed or introduced bills “regulating artificial intelligence or establishing commissions or task forces to seek transparency about the use of AI in their state or locality.” 

For example, Alabama, Colorado, Illinois and Vermont have passed bills creating a commission, task force or oversight position to evaluate the use of AI in their states and make recommendations regarding its use. Alabama, Colorado, Illinois and Mississippi have passed bills that limit the use of AI in their states. And Baltimore and New York City have passed local bills that would prohibit the use of algorithmic decision-making in a discriminatory manner. 

Ben Winters, EPIC’s counsel and leader of EPIC’s AI and Human Rights Project, said the information was something he had wanted to get in one single document for a long time. 

“State policy in general is really hard to follow, so the idea was to get a sort of zoomed-out picture of what has been introduced and what has passed, so that at the next session everyone is prepared to move the good bills along,” he said. 

Fragmented state and local AI legislation

The list of varied laws makes clear the fragmentation of legislation around the use of AI in the US – as opposed to the broad mandate of a proposed regulatory framework around the use of AI in the European Union. 

But Winters said while state laws can be confusing or frustrating – for example, if vendors have to deal with different state laws regulating AI in government contracting — the advantage is that comprehensive bills can tend to get watered down. 

“Also, when bills are passed affecting businesses in huge states such as, say, California, it basically creates a standard,” he said. “We’d love to see strong legislation passed nationwide, but from my perspective right now state-level policy could yield stronger outcomes.” 

Enterprise businesses, he added, should be aware of proposed AI regulation and that there is a rising standard overall around the transparency and explainability of AI. “To get ahead of that rising tide, I think they should try to take it upon themselves to do more testing, more documentation and do this in a way that’s understandable to consumers,” he said. “That’s what more and more places are going to require.” 

AI regulation focused on specific issues

Some limited issues, he pointed out, will have more accelerated growth in legislative focus, including facial recognition and the use of AI in hiring. “Those are sort of the ‘buckle your seat belt’ issues,’ he said. 

Other issues will see a slow growth in the number of proposed bills, although Winters said that there is a lot of action around state procurement and automated decision making systems. “The Vermont bill passed last year and both Colorado and Washington state were really close,” he said. “So I think there’s going to be more of those next year in the next legislative session.” 

In addition, he said, there might be some movement on specific bills codifying concepts around AI discrimination.  For example, Washington DC’s Stop Discrimination by Algorithms Act of 2021 “would prohibit the use of algorithmic decision-making in a discriminatory manner and would require notices to individuals whose personal information is used in certain algorithms to determine employment, housing, healthcare and financial lending.”  

“The DC bill hasn’t passed yet, but there’s a lot of interest,” he explained, adding that similar ideas are in the pending American Data Privacy and Protection Act. “I don’t think there will be a federal law or any huge avalanche of generally-applicable AI laws in commerce in the next little bit, but current state bills have passed that have requirements around certain discrimination aspects and opting out – that’s going to require more transparency.” 

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