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AI on Hold? Senate Passes Bill to Protect Call Center Jobs

As the conversation around girding state workers from the impacts of generative AI heats up, one advancing bill could establish new rules for state and local government call centers.

For all the talk about AI taking over the world as we know it, the more pressing concern seems to be the piecemeal takeover of human jobs.

Digital artists and film industry writers sounded the alarm last year, with writers, journalists and other creatives chiming in with their own objections to the tech.

But what about state workers? Many of the jobs in state government — data entry, data analytics, call takers, etc. — could arguably be done, at least in part, by generative AI with the right modeling.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration is currently testing how AI could aid call center teams with parsing through the state’s enormous tax code for customers. The project is one of five pilots recently announced by the California Government Operations Agency (GovOps).

And even state CIO Liana Bailey-Crimmins has noted the potential of GenAI to fill workforce knowledge gaps around legacy systems and to identify some of the mysterious code created to make a critical system function.

Unsurprisingly, the issue of protecting state worker jobs has pinged on the radar of unions and tech leaders alike. Sissy Woods, research director with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), told attendees at the recent Joint California Summit on Generative AI that workers are concerned about the technology and should be included on the ground level with new implementations.

“[State workers are] very much on the front lines of piloting some of these projects, and they’re deeply concerned about how this is going to impact them as workers, but they’re also very, very concerned about how this is going to impact the people that they serve,” Woods said.

Sen. Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, introduced legislation earlier this year that would, among other things, draw some lines around state and local government call center workers where AI is concerned.

Senate Bill 1220 would “prohibit a state agency or specified local agency from using, or contracting with a call center that uses artificial intelligence (AI) or automated decision systems (ADS) that would eliminate or automate core job functions of a worker, as specified.” In addition, the legislation would require agencies that use the technology to satisfy certain requirements, including the development of an impact assessment report.

What’s more, state call center contractors would have to certify that their employees are located within the state or risk civil penalties of up to $10,000.

The bill passed this month in a 32-7 Senate vote. The bill has been sent to the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement for a hearing June 19.
Eyragon is the Managing Editor for Industry Insider — California. He previously served as the Daily News Editor for Government Technology. He lives in Sacramento, Calif.