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Republican Senate President Jake Chapman, along with 29 fellow GOP members of the Iowa Senate, filed Senate File 402 on Thursday. The bill takes aim at Big Tech censorship.

“The ability of Americans and Iowans to voice their opinions is foundational and I would argue is the very cornerstone of our great republic,” Chapman said. “The ability to speak freely was so important that our founders enshrined this right in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

“While some would argue that the political divide could not be greater in this moment of history, this is the time more than ever that we need to protect speech, not silence it.”

Chapman said Big Tech is in the midst of a “coordinated effort” to use their “unfettered power” to restrict, modify or remove Americans’ and Iowans’ ability to have their voices heard.

“The reality is these social media platforms have become the public square of the 21st century,” he said. “Big Tech is being shielded by an antiquated law known as Section 230 of the United States Code. Sadly, it appears Congress is unwilling to provide the necessary protections to our First Amendment from this unprecedented overreach by Big Tech.”

A companion bill was filed in the House as a study bill by Rep. Steve Holt, the chair of the Judiciary Committee.

“The legislation introduced will send a strong message that Iowans will no longer foot the bill for Big Tech censorship in our state,” Chapman said. “Big Tech will be required to recognize the rights of our citizens. Failure to comply with the law will result in Iowans having a mechanism to have their complaint investigated and heard before a court of law.

“If a judge determines constitutionally protected speech has been censored, the Big Tech company will forfeit their rights to any and all tax breaks, exemptions or any other benefits they receive in our state for 20 years.”

The choice, Chapman said, is theirs.

“My hope is that the feckless disregard for individual rights we see coming out of the California Silicon Valley will promptly end,” he said. “Today the general assembly will begin the process to send a clear and concise message that Iowans won’t be silenced.”

Apple will receive more than $200 million in local and state tax breaks, Chapman said. Facebook in Altoona is not paying property taxes and receives hundreds of millions of dollars in tax benefits.

The Big Tech companies also are some of the largest energy consumers in Iowa, yet do not pay any tax on their energy consumption.

“This bill will force them to start paying taxes if they choose,” Chapman said. “The option is always theirs. They are in the driver’s seat when it comes to this issue.”

It is part of what Chapman called a “worldwide” effort after Poland introduced legislation yesterday to fine Facebook for censorship.

“We have states that are literally locking people down and have locked people down during COVID-19,” Chapman said. “How do they have their voices heard? It’s these devices, it’s the digital media platform and you have these executives out of California deciding what’s going to be seen and what’s not going to be seen.”

The bill isn’t intended to get Big Tech’s attention, it is intended to end their abuse of Iowans’ rights.

“We’re trying to change their behavior,” Chapman said.

At the beginning of our nation there was a literal public square, Chapman said, where people would go to share their ideas. Today that is social media.

“On the one hand, these large tech companies want all of the protections that are granted to them under Section 230 as simply a platform where there’s an exchange of ideas and beliefs, but then they want to use catchphrases like ‘moderate,’ and ‘restrict.’ They want to control a specific dialogue of speech.”

Chapman, who will manage the bill, expects it to have a subcommittee hearing next week. He’s also hopeful it will progress in the House since it was filed as a study bill.

“I will assume it will move fairly rapidly,” he said of the Senate bill. “We want to make sure that Big Tech is not censoring Iowans. If Big Tech wants to censor Iowans, they’re not going to get the special tax benefits that Iowans are paying for. So again, they have a choice to make — respect the opinion and thoughts of Iowans or forego your very rich tax breaks you’re getting in this state.”

Republican Senators Mike Klimesh, Roby Smith, Craig Johnson, Chris Cournoyer, Tim Goodwin, Dennis Guth, Jeff Taylor and Carrie Koelker joined Chapman at the press conference.