Colorado lawmakers could block constituents on social media if governor signs bipartisan bill
Various federal courts have weighed the issue of elected officials blocking people online
The Colorado Legislature passed a bipartisan bill that would allow elected officials to block people and delete their comments on personal social media accounts.
House Bill 23-1306 was approved by the Senate Thursday afternoon with a 26-9 vote. It passed the House on Monday with a 43-20 vote.
Bill sponsor Sen. Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican, compared the concept of blocking someone on social media who is spamming, threatening or trolling to kicking a disruptive audience member out of a town hall event.
“I would be within my rights to have my security people remove them from my town hall meeting. I think the law is pretty clear about that,” he said on the Senate floor during second reading on Wednesday.
“I’ve not interfered with their First Amendment rights as a state actor. Have I interfered with their right to speak at my meeting? Yes. But they didn’t have any protected First Amendment right to speak at my meeting anymore than they have a First Amendment right to be in (my) living room. Now, take that into the virtual context,” he said.
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The bill is sponsored by Gardner, Sen. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat, Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, and Rep. Matt Soper, a Delta Republican. It would be the first law of its type in the country.
If signed into law, the bill would let lawmakers block their constituents from viewing and interacting with them on social media for any reason, though the bill specifically lists bullying, harassment and intimidation as examples.
It would only apply to personal accounts, not ones attached to a specific elected office. That means Gov. Jared Polis, for example, could block someone from his personal Twitter account, @jaredpolis, but not from his official government Twitter account, @GovofCO, since the personal account predates his election and will stay in his control after he leaves office.
The Colorado Legislature is making a statement that may not turn out to be what the Supreme Court upholds.
– Jeffrey Roberts, of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition
Last year, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an elected official in Michigan could block people from their social media account if the account is not paid for by government funds, if the account sticks with the official after they leave office and if they don’t have a legal duty to have an account. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in April to take up that case.
In Colorado, four elected officials — including former Senate President Leroy Garcia and former state Sen. Ray Scott — have settled out of court in cases where a constituent sued them for blocking or limiting them on social media. Last year, a federal judge sided with Rep. Lauren Boebert and did not force her to unblock former state lawmaker Bri Buentello on her personal Twitter account, writing that Boebert’s action did not violate Buentello’s First Amendment rights.
There have also been various federal court rulings on the issue of elected officials blocking constituents in different circuit courts.
“The Colorado Legislature is making a statement that may not turn out to be what the Supreme Court upholds,” Jeffrey Roberts, the executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, told Newsline.
“If (lawmakers) use their personal account as a public forum, then there are certainly questions about whether it’s OK to keep people off that forum for reasons that don’t have anything to do with being disruptive or threatening people,” he said.
He questioned whether the public truly differentiates between posts on a personal account versus an official account, since elected officials often post public business on both.
Polis’ office did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday about whether he intends to sign the bill into law.
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