As part of his tour of South Dakota, Senator John Thune took time on January 18, to hold a town hall meeting at the East River Electric building here in Madison. For this meeting, Senator Thune made a brief presentation, followed by a question and answer period where several members of the Madison community had the opportunity to ask him his position on various subjects. Sixteen Dakota State University students decided to take advantage of this opportunity and ask Senator Thune questions about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
Before the question and answer section of the meeting, Senator Thune made a brief presentation focused mainly on the economy. His presentation slides describing different facets of what is currently causing our economic crisis, followed by slides projecting his possible solutions to these problems. The main point made by Thune is that spending must be reigned in so the United States can balance its budget and thus end our current debt crisis. Following this presentation, he began taking questions, specifically questions from DSU students about the SOPA and PIPA bills.
SOPA and PIPA are two bills being debated in both the House and the Senate and are aimed at ending the practice of online piracy. However, due to the language of the bills, students are concerned to a possible disastrous effect to the online community. Because students felt that these bills could cause this harm, they made sure to ask the senator what his position on these bills is, and what he would do if these bills would come to a vote when the senate goes back in session next week.
Paul Schipper began the question and answer period by asking Senator Thune, “The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act threaten to take down websites, such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, things that bring revenue into our country, through drastic legislation and they don’t have basis in realistic expectations. How do you feel on the subject and why? ” The senator responded saying, “Well I think that you all are doing a pretty good job of getting in touch with congress on this (laughter) because I think congress is backing off from moving forward on this there are bills that have been introduced in both the House and the Senate I don’t happen to be a co-sponsor of the Senate bill…. I think that we want to make sure is that we’ve got wonderful advances in technology that have literally transformed the way we do things in this country that have created all kinds of new avenues and opportunities for people and I think we want to maintain that freedom on the internet as much as possible. There’s lots of foreign, rogue sites that have counterfeit things that are out there, that are pirating products that are developed in this country and I think that’s why you have the movie industry and the record industry, music industry, all of them all worked up but we’ve got to come up with a better way to do that than what’s being proposed in this legislation and what’s being advanced goes too far, and really does I think undermine the great advances and the great success that we’ve had with the freedom that we have on the internet. So it gets complicated you know this is a medium that is as I said has lead to incredible amounts of innovation, and economic growth there are also people who misuse it. I think that’s what the legislation was designed to get at.” After a few questions from community members, DSU student Elliott Breukelman asked Senator Thune to further clarify his stance on this bill by asking how he would vote, if the bill was put to a vote when the senate returns to session. He responded to this question by telling the audience that he would not vote for the bill, with its current wording; however, he stated that if some of the wording were to change, he might change his position.
Apart from answering questions based upon SOPA and PIPA, Senator Thune answered questions about his voting record on such bills as the National Defense of Americans Act (NDAA) to several of the farm bills being debated in congress this year. Following the question/answer session, the senator thanked the audience for their attendance, and the town hall meeting was over. However, after the meeting the students of DSU can be assured that their senator will not be voting for either SOPA or PIPA given its current wording.