RD452 - Annual Report of the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (2015)

    Executive Summary:
    The Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS), a permanent legislative study commission created in 1997, continued its work during the 2015 interim to "study all aspects of technology and science and to endeavor to stimulate, encourage, promote, and assist in the development of technology and science in the Commonwealth and sound public policies related thereto" (§ 30-85 of the Code of Virginia).

    JCOTS considered a variety of issues during the 2015 interim, as described below:

    Research and Development in the Commonwealth: JCOTS devoted a full meeting to discussing issues related to research and development activities in the Commonwealth. Staff provided an overview of existing research and development expenditures in the Commonwealth, including existing tax credits, the Commonwealth Research and Commercialization Fund, and other general fund appropriations related to research and development.

    JCOTS also discussed HB 1743 (Hugo), referred to JCOTS for study by the 2015 Session of the General Assembly. The bill would substantially amend the existing research and development tax credit by changing the formula used to determine the amount of the credit and by removing the existing $6 million cap. Delegate Tim Hugo indicated that the changes were aimed at making the credit more useful for larger companies conducting substantial amounts of research in the Commonwealth. A representative of Raytheon Company spoke in support of the proposed legislation. Representatives of Virginia Bio and the Northern Virginia Technology Council both indicated that they were supportive of leaving the existing credit intact, as it was developed to benefit smaller companies. However, neither was opposed to creating a second, alternative research and development credit that would be used by larger companies.

    Ultimately, JCOTS made no recommendation regarding HB 1743. Members generally agreed that if legislation were introduced during the 2016 Session, the credit should not be refundable and should include a reasonable cap.

    Nanosatellites: JCOTS continued the work of the Nanosatellites Advisory Committee, chaired by Delegate Ken Plum, which was established during the 2014 interim. The Virginia Space Grant Consortium (Consortium) presented a proposal to the advisory committee that would require $4 million of state funding annually to establish a "Small Sat Virginia" program administered by the Consortium. The program would be a public-private partnership that would secure launch flight opportunities through the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and other venues, foster pipeline activities at the K-12 level, foster university and private sector research partnerships, provide matching funds for certain federal awards, and create university-level internship opportunities. While the advisory committee and JCOTS were generally supportive of the development of the nanosatellite and small satellite industries of the Commonwealth, the advisory committee declined to endorse the proposal and suggested that the Consortium seek executive branch support for a program that would require such a substantial budget commitment.

    Virginia Consumer Protection Act: HB 1920 (LeMunyon) was referred to JCOTS by the 2015 Session of the General Assembly. The bill would allow a consumer with complaints about Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Services to seek the assistance of the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. Delegate Jim LeMunyon said that many current providers of VoIP services are otherwise regulated by the State Corporation Commission, but VoIP itself is not, leaving consumers with nowhere to turn in the event of a complaint.

    Representatives of the communications industry spoke in opposition to the bill, noting that VoIP services are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, which provides an avenue for citizen complaints. Representatives from the Consumer Protection Section at the Office of the Attorney General said that they do see a gap in consumer protection availability related to VoIP. Following the presentation and public comment, no motion was made regarding HB 1920.

    Use of Personal Information by Motor Carriers: HB 2037 (Bulova) was referred to JCOTS by the 2015 Session of the General Assembly. The bill would limit the use of the personal information of passengers obtained by motor carriers, including trip data. Delegate David Bulova said that his bill stems from the premise that trip data is personal information.

    Representatives of Uber and Lyft spoke in opposition to the bill. They were concerned that the legislation was aimed specifically at Transportation Network Companies, even though a number of different types of companies and applications track locational data. They indicated that this would be the first locational data bill in the country.

    In discussing the issues presented by the bill, members of JCOTS indicated that it was not wise to single out a single industry with this type of legislation, when the General Assembly had not yet adequately looked at privacy and locational data as a whole. JCOTS adopted a motion to not recommend HB 2037 to the 2016 Session of the General Assembly.

    Information Technology Procurement: HB 2336 (Peace) and SB 1420 (Reeves) were referred to JCOTS by the 2015 Session of the General Assembly. The identical bills would limit the liability in an information technology (IT) contract to two times the value of the contract. Staff held multiple work group meetings with interested parties to discuss the issues. Through these conversations, it became apparent that the concern was not about placing a cap on liability in contracts but about a perceived inability by offerors to an IT-related Request for Proposal (RFP) to negotiate the liability requirements set forth in the RFP. A proposed draft developed by the work group would prohibit a public body from requiring that an offeror state exception to the liability provisions set forth in an RFP related to an IT procurement. The offeror would be required to submit any such exception in writing at the beginning of the negotiation phase. The revised bill was unanimously recommended by JCOTS to the 2016 Session of the General Assembly.

    Privacy Expectation Afterlife & Choices Act: The Privacy Expectation Afterlife and Choices Act (PEAC Act) was adopted by the 2015 Session of the General Assembly. The legislation directed JCOTS to study implementation of the PEAC Act, which provides a process by which the personal representative of an estate may petition a court for access to records of a decedent's electronic communications if certain criteria are met, and to make recommendations regarding access to electronic communication records by guardians ad litem, conservators, and other fiduciaries(*1).

    Staff convened a work group of interested parties to discuss the issues. There was general consensus that no changes were recommended to give access to guardians ad litem, conservators, or other fiduciaries. Representatives of the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia shared the new forms that were developed for petitions under the PEAC Act. However, given the brief amount of time that the law had been in effect, and the narrow scope of the law, there was no data available so far regarding implementation of the PEAC Act.

    Broadband and Conduit: HB 2352 (Marshall, D.) was referred to JCOTS for study by the 2015 Session of the General Assembly. The bill would require any person who installed pipeline that crossed more than one county or the Commonwealth's border to equip the pipeline with conduit capable of housing fiber optic cable. Staff convened a work group of interested parties to discuss issues related to the bill. The work group found that while the goals of the bill to increase communication, cooperation, and efficiency in facilitating broadband deployment were laudable, the bill raised a number of policy, legal, and safety issues. The concerns were outlined in a report that was submitted to JCOTS. At the recommendation of the work group, JCOTS voted to request that the Broadband Advisory Committee continue discussions as to how to best improve coordination of state and local government and private industry to deploy broadband in underserved areas.

    Cybersecurity: JCOTS convened a Cybersecurity Advisory Committee, chaired by Delegate Glenn Davis, to develop a plan for public-private initiatives to promote cybersecurity research and development in the Commonwealth. The advisory committee presented several proposals to JCOTS for consideration. These recommendations included developing a higher education research portal, convening a statewide cybersecurity conference, establishing K-12 grants to be used to match funds used by schools in support of STEM programs, and establishing a matching grant fund for private entities conducting cybersecurity research and development in partnership with Virginia institutions of higher education. JCOTS unanimously recommended all four of the proposals to the 2016 Session of the General Assembly.

    In addition to studying these various issues on the work plan, JCOTS also received its annual update from the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.

    Additional, detailed information about the work of JCOTS and its advisory committees, along with copies of meeting materials and proposed legislation, is available on the JCOTS website at http://dls.virginia.gov/commission/jcots.htm. No further 2015 report is forthcoming.
    (*1) See Chapter 657 of the 2015 Virginia Acts of Assembly.