Oregon’s first-ever bill on artificial intelligence makes it out of the Senate

Oregon’s first legislation that touches on the emerging field of artificial intelligence has passed in the Senate.

A 23-7 vote on Monday, Feb. 26, sent Senate Bill 1571 to the House. It requires disclosure, but does not ban it, when AI is used to create political campaign advertising. The term used is “synthetic media.”

The bill’s chief sponsor is Sen. Aaron Woods, a Democrat from Wilsonville and a retired technology executive, who said Oregon would join six other states with similar legislation — among them Washington and California.

“It seeks to address a rapidly emerging threat that, if left unchecked into the future, would undermine the very fabric of free and fair elections,” Woods said.

“The potential for harm is enormous and I do not say that lightly. This is a step that safeguards our electoral integrity.”

The bill provides for penalties to a maximum of $10,000 and rulemaking by the secretary of state as Oregon’s chief elections officer.

Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, has been a producer for public television and a talk-show host for public radio.

“We are now at a point in our technology where public figures can be made to say things they never said or believed in a completely credible way that almost no expert can detect,” Golden said.

Dissenters focused on the role of the secretary of state.

“Who is going to be the judge of whether this is an accurate statement or correct representation of a ballot measure?” asked Sen. Kim Thatcher of Keizer, the 2020 Republican nominee for secretary of state. “There are a lot of differences of opinion and I think we need to proceed carefully.”

Like Thatcher and eight colleagues, Sen. Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls was barred by the Oregon Supreme Court from seeking re-election under terms of a 2022 constitutional amendment limiting the number of unexcused absences from floor sessions. Linthicum was one of the five plaintiffs who sued to overturn the rule by Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade.

Calling the legislation a tool of “the ruling elite,” Linthicum said, “it makes legislators superfluous and voters pointless.”

Undisclosed use of AI, according to the bill, would fall under a state law that bars publication of false statements in official voters guides.

The law is rarely invoked, but in 1997, Wes Cooley pleaded no contest to a statement in his 1994 biography in the state voters pamphlet that said: “Army Special Forces, Korea.” (He was in Special Forces, but his unit never went to Korea or saw combat during the Korean War, which ended in a truce in July 1953.)

Cooley was elected to the 2nd District congressional seat in 1994, but after news disclosures about his statement, he resigned the Republican nomination for a second term after the 1996 primary. He drew less than 10% of the Republican primary vote in a comeback attempt in 1998.

The legislation got political momentum earlier this year after robocalls mimicking Joe Biden’s voice urged New Hampshire voters not to cast ballots in the Democratic primary on Jan. 23 and wait until the November general election. The president never made such calls, but won the primary anyway though his name was not on the ballot. A Democratic political operative, Steve Kramer, said later that he was behind the robocalls, which employed Biden’s voice manipulated by AI.

“For $500, he got $5 million worth of action” through the public attention they drew, Woods said.

Pwong@pamplinmedia.com

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