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Mass. lawmakers propose installing guardrails on A-I aimed at transparency in political messaging

Mass. House Minority Leader Bradley Jones Jr. talks to reporters on his way back to the chamber Friday, Dec. 1, 2023.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Mass. House Minority Leader Bradley Jones Jr. talks to reporters on his way back to the chamber Friday, Dec. 1, 2023.

Massachusetts House lawmakers passed a measure last week aimed at managing deep fakes. The bill was filed by House Minority Leader Brad Jones and cautions lawmakers that deployment of artificial intelligence should have guardrails. This comes following that January deepfake robocall, A-I impersonating Joe Biden and instructing New Hampshire voters to not vote. Jones is a Massachusetts Republican and presumably won't be voting for President Biden come November. Chris Lisinski of the State House News Service said there are issues on which Massachusetts Republicans often work across the aisle.

Chris Lisinksi, SHNS: Yeah, we see all the time there are issues where Republicans and Democrats in Massachusetts find common ground, find agreement. Not so on the most partisan and controversial things, but on plenty of smaller matters. This is one of them.

The budget language that the House adopted would effectively require any political, audio or visual campaign material that uses A-I generated speech, audio, anything like that, in order to make very clear, that this was produced using A-I, and to include a disclaimer at the bottom of the ad, or at the end of the ad so that voters could understand that for instance, that is not actually Joe Biden I hear telling me not to vote. This is a computer program mimicking Joe Biden.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: We should note that Massachusetts is among a number of states aiming to regulate or look into regulating A-I. Just last week, Connecticut senators passeda somewhat similar bill. But it may not become law there because Governor Ned Lamont says it could stifle innovation and then make Connecticut look like an outlier. Regarding that sentiment, Chris, have Massachusetts lawmakers voiced any similar concerns?

We've probably heard concerns like that around the edges, but overall, I would say that there's not really a clear consensus in one direction or the other about the role of A-I here in Massachusetts. Beacon Hill is in more of a fact finding, fact gathering mode.

This A-I bill was wrapped into a consolidated mega amendment bundle to the House's fiscal year 2025 state budget, as were hundreds of other measures. So…  next steps are sending the House spending plan and approved amendment bundles to the Senate?

Exactly. The Senate is going to roll out its counter proposal, its own rewrite of both the House budget and Governor Healey's budget. We expect that to happen in May, and the Senate to do its own multiple days of back-to-back debate with similar gigantic amendment packages sometime in May, before the big, closed door talks begin.

Following some controversial, candid statements made by the state's top transportation official, Governor Maura Healey said Monica Tibbetts-Nutt used “a very poor choice of words.” Healey distanced herself from that border tolls plan. Tibbetts-Nutt chairs a transportation funding task force sworn in earlier this year by Healey. That border toll was portrayed as one of the ideas under consideration by that task force. I'm curious, Chris, who sits on that committee and what have they been charged with?

There's a lot of different people on this committee. You know, you wouldn't be surprised by some of them. In addition to Secretary Tibbetts-Nutt, the General Manager of the MBTA gets a seat. The Secretary of Administration and Finance gets a seat. But there’re also representatives from business groups like the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Massachusetts Association of Regional Planning Agencies, among others.

It's a really diverse group of stakeholders who have an interest in the future of transportation. It's got a pretty broad charge. By the end of 2024, it needs to deliver a report to Governor Healey about the future of transportation funding in Massachusetts and what the state should be doing differently to ensure it has the money to pay for roads, bridges, transit and the like.

And finally, briefly on the horizon this week is a deadline affecting ballot questions that are queuing up to appear on the November ballot. What does the law call for lawmakers to do, regarding ballot questions this week?

Yeah, once we get to the other side of May 1st, if the Legislature has not taken action on the ballot questions as they're drafted and have been under review for a few months now, we officially jump into the next step of the process when campaigns need to go back out and collect more signatures from registered voters. That will be effectively the final hurdle. If they get this last batch of voter signatures. Those questions can go before voters this November.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.

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