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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As 2019 began, many in Washington and Silicon Valley predicted it would be the year Congress took action on national privacy legislation — but the year is half over, and momentum has seriously slowed.

Why it matters: While members of Congress negotiate behind closed doors on a comprehensive bill that the public has yet to see, state lawmakers are forging ahead on their own.

Flashback: Six months ago, multiple sources of pressure seemed to be forcing lawmakers' to move on data privacy rules.

  1. Awareness of consumer data collection was growing, thanks to Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal and other Big Tech screwups.
  2. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which just hit its first birthday, put Congress behind on regulating a major sector of the economy.
  3. Silicon Valley companies asked federal lawmakers to step in and preempt state rules, particularly California's privacy law set to take effect next year.

Details: The most closely-watched effort to produce a national privacy law is a working group with six members of the Senate Commerce Committee, traditionally a leader on internet issues.

  • Members of the group had indicated that they hoped to have produced a proposal by Memorial Day, sources said.
  • That milestone has now come and gone — although the group has added influential members, a possible sign of progress — with multiple sources telling Axios they expect to see a draft proposal this summer.

A person familiar with the committee’s efforts said the group was aiming to reach a bipartisan consensus, and has been meeting with outside parties.

  • Aides involved in the working group have been asking about how to tailor the rules so they don’t hamper small businesses, according to two sources. (Europe's rules have been criticized by industry for placing too much of a burden on startups.)
  • Senators have been mum about the sticking points in their discussions — but Democrats have long said that they'll only be willing to preempt states in exchange for substantial concessions from the industry.

The big picture: Other lawmakers have also failed to produce privacy proposals.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee sent letters earlier this year to companies asking about their data collection practices, according to a source. But there's no indication of plans to move forward with a specific bill.
  • Democrats had signaled privacy legislation would be a priority when they retook the House last year. But major House committees haven’t moved forward with a bill, either, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) has indicated she’s wary of overriding state rules like those soon to take effect in her home state of California.

Yes, but: The process could be jolted by a resolution of the Federal Trade Commission's investigation of Facebook.

The bottom line: Reaching consensus on bipartisan legislation is historically more difficult in an election year, so policymakers intent on crafting a stricter standard for the likes of Google and Facebook are running out of time.

Go deeper

Air quality alerts issued as California fires threaten more sequoias

The Windy Fire blazes through the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees near the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest, near California Hot Springs, on Tuesday. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Two wildfires were threatening California's sequoia trees over overnight — hours after authorities issued fresh evacuation orders and warnings, along with air quality alerts.

The big picture: Air quality alerts were issued Wednesday for the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley as smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires resulted in hazy, "ash-filled" skies from Fresno to Tulare, the Los Angeles Times notes.

Asymptomatic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a September news conference in Viera, Fla. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Wednesday an emergency order allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they're exposed to COVID-19, provided they're asymptomatic.

Why it matters: People infected with COVID-19 can spread the coronavirus starting from two days before they display symptoms, according to the CDC. Quarantine helps prevent the virus' spread.

Federal judge: Florida ban on sanctuary cities racially motivated

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down parts of a Florida law aimed at banning local governments from establishing sanctuary city policies, arguing in part that the law is racially motivated and that it has the support of hate groups.

Why it matters: In a 110-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said the law — signed and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because it was adopted with discriminatory motives.

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