Committee advances “paradigm shift” cybersecurity bill | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–Regulating artificial intelligence, creating an agricultural disaster relief fund and boosting food security emerged as areas of focus that lawmakers could tackle in 2024 following a batch of committee votes.

Joint House-Senate panels advanced a bevy of bills late last week, including a wide-ranging proposal dealing with cybersecurity and AI and a series of food- and farm-related measures, putting them into the mix for consideration as legislative leaders craft an agenda for the formal sessions that can resume as soon as next week.

The cybersecurity bill reaches across the digital landscape, calling for creation of new incident reporting standards, expanded data breach protections, a commission to study automated decision-making, mandatory training for public employees and more, according to a summary circulated by the Joint Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity that dubbed it a “landmark” proposal.

That panel crafted the measure from more than a dozen individual bills it reviewed this term and unanimously awarded it a favorable recommendation.

“It is hard to grasp how much of our lives revolve around digital systems these days. Critical banking information, sensitive healthcare reports, detailed tax and income data, and so much more are all stored on servers that may be vulnerable to breaches if the proper precautions are not taken,” Sen. Michael Moore, a Millbury Democrat who co-chairs the committee, said. “This legislation would mark a paradigm shift in cybersecurity and AI policy in the Commonwealth, showing the United States and the world that Massachusetts can and will lead on protecting our data, our systems, and, most importantly, our people from the threats of tomorrow.”

Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield, the committee’s House co-chair, said the legislation would provide “state and local government and small businesses the infrastructure to mitigate, respond to, and recover from these threats and incidents.”

Among its many provisions, the bill would create a new board within the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security tasked with crafting recommended “rules, standards, and safeguards” for automated decision-making. Members of the panel would study transparency, auditability and accountability issues with the systems as well as any potential biases, and they would be required to submit an annual report to the governor and Legislature, according to the bill summary.

The bill would also stand up another new panel tasked with “creating and administering a state cybersecurity code.”

Other reforms included in the omnibus package include codification of the Critical Incident Response Team, which Gov. Charlie Baker created via executive order to oversee the state’s response plan for cybersecurity breaches and ransomware attacks; new requirements for “critical infrastructure” systems to report cybersecurity incidents to the Commonwealth Fusion Center; expansion of data breach laws and notification requirements; a ban on weaponization of robotic devices or drones; and language clarifying that the governor can invoke the Civil Defense Act in response to a cyberattack.

The measure will head next to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Top Democrats have not given any explicit indication about plans for bringing it to the floor for a vote, though a press release from the Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity Committee included a quote from Senate President Karen Spilka thanking members for “their diligence in addressing the pressing issues of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.”

“On behalf of the Senate, I look forward to reviewing this bill further,” Spilka said.

The Joint Committee on Agriculture, operating in its first term as a revived standalone panel, late last week issued favorable reports to a dozen other bills.

“Each piece of legislation addresses issues we heard about from farmers, fishermen, and food justice organizations throughout our first year of work,” said committee co-chair Rep. Paul Schmid, a Westport Democrat. “It’s certainly exciting to be able to release these bills.”

On the list is a proposal (H 753 / S 490) that would create an Agricultural Disaster Relief Fund, which would offer financial support to farmers who have incurred major losses due to extreme weather.

Lawmakers and Gov. Maura Healey have already made it a priority this year to support the state’s farmers by using spending bills to steer money to relief efforts.

Another aid program the Agriculture Committee endorsed aims to improve food security. A pair of favorably reported bills (H 828 / S 507) would create the Food Justice Frontline Program and make grants of up to $500,000 available to nonprofit food security organizations.

The panel also advanced measures that would change the duration of special permits allowing non-agricultural activities on agricultural preservation restriction, or APR, land (H 754); create a fund to support lobstermen affected by seasonal fishing area closures (S 552); allow Nantucket to adopt nutrient and fertilizer guidelines (S 2437); create a tax credit for donating used oyster shells (S 466); allow more facilities to participate in the Clean Peak Standard incentive program (H 89); expand the timeframe for a municipality’s right of first refusal on agricultural land (S 45); require the Mass. Food Policy Council to hire a full-time food system coordinator (H 92); and create a Fisheries Conservation Gear Grant Program (H 773).


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