In the days before the current legislative session, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, was cajoling his colleagues to remain vigilant, and healthy, because they only had a one-vote majority in the Senate. Every body was needed so Republicans could maximize their efforts to successfully support their agenda.
"I've already talked to our members and saying if you have a bad cough, if you have a heart condition, if you have a habit of drinking and driving, check it at the door because we have to be better than that with only a one-vote margin," he told them, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
Then, on March 13, it was Limmer who fell ill. He had two stents inserted after a minor heart attack, missing just a couple of days of work before returning on March 15. Two weeks later, he bounced back to vote against his own party — but for his constituents — on an internet privacy amendment the GOP leadership tried to kill on a technicality.
The amendment to a broader budget bill, by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St Louis Park, would prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from collecting personal information without approval from internet customers. The amendment was a reaction to legislation passed last week by Congress to eliminate protections and allow ISPs to sell people's web browsing and app history to advertisers. The magazine Fast Company said Minnesota was the first state in the country to challenge the loosening of internet user privacy rights. Illinois and Montana have followed Minnesota's lead.
But it didn't happen without a fight.
Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said the amendment was not germane and tried to kill it. Had Osmek been successful, Republicans would have been saved from a public vote on a controversial issue that pits the corporate interests of companies such as Comcast against the privacy of internet users.
All Senate DFLers voted to let their colleague's amendment go to a vote. No surprise. Then Limmer, who has strong views on privacy, sided with Latz.
There would be a vote after all. That meant every member would be on the record on the issue come next Election Day.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, watched as votes were tallied and Republicans suddenly showed intense interest in the importance of internet privacy. The final vote was 66-1, with only Osmek voting against.
"It just shows how games are played," said Marty. "[Legislators] didn't want to be on record voting against privacy and for legislation that includes some outrageous stuff."
While a legislator voting against party on issues is common, they usually vote the party line on procedural matters, such as whether to actually allow a vote on a subject, Marty said.
"He's a person of principle," Latz said of Limmer. "He feels very strongly about privacy."
"I've been a minority member for most of my career," Limmer said in an interview. "I've become a little more protective of the issues I find important. We've been promised in this digital age that the government will protect our privacy, but that's beginning to change. We have to do it if not for this generation, then the next generation."
Latz's amendment says that ISPs may not "collect personal information from a customer resulting from the customer's use of the telecommunications or internet service provider without express written approval from the customer." Those companies also cannot refuse service to customers who won't permit use of personal information.
Limmer said last week that experts have warned for decades about the invasion of technology, saying "there may come a day when government and corporations work together in order to know everything about us. Apparently that day is about to fall on us very quickly."
As for measures passed last week by Congress, "we should be alarmed," Limmer said. "Maybe alarmed is too tame a word, maybe [we should be] outraged at the invasion that's been allowed on the most intimate of our communications."
Latz said response to his amendment has been strong. "People do have some expectations that things they do on private computers remain private," he said.
The bill must be reconciled with a similar one in the House. "I'd be shocked if this provision doesn't make it into the bill," Latz said.
On Monday, Latz took to Twitter to note some irony. Osmek, the only senator to ultimately vote against his amendment and against protecting the privacy of internet users, had blocked him on Twitter.
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