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Monday, March 23, 2015

Texas lawmaker still wants to restrict photographing cops

His official portrait.

Last week, Texas politician Jason Villalba found himself in political hot water with his introduction of HB 2918 which would restrict anyone with a camera within 25 feet of a police scene. Journalists would be exempt. In that poorly worded bill, the Texas lawman attempted to define what a journalist is. Anyone that works for a television station or radio station with an FCC license would be exempt, as would people working for newspapers that publish at least one time a week. Internet newspapers, that publish relevant, hourly updates on stories of the public interest, were not applicable, according to Villalba.

He has received death threats. His family is now fearful. Still, Villalba is forging ahead with this bill which, by all intents and purposes looks very likely to die on the House Floor. The only thing this has done is united his fellow legislators in fighting it. So, rather than pull the bill, Villalba is going to re write it, to make it a misdemeanor for anyone to photograph cops closer than 15 feet. On March 20, 2015 he taped an episode with Inside Texas Politics, Villalba wants to "Give cops a halo", He is adamant that he is not trying to restrict people from recording cops. Still, the new bill, even at 15 feet begs a constitutional challenge and is still rife with problems.

Imagine the law passes. The cops are involved in something and there is a rouge officer, or a jackboot who is just looking to keep the cameras away. As the photographer is 15 feet away, the cop will keep closing the distance , making the cameraman go back so they are 100 feet away. If you think it will not happen, think again. Villalba said that he was approached by friends that are cops who asked him to introduce this bill. Imagine the doctor who is a passenger in a car and one of Villalba's "friends" stops that car and he starts recording the stop, as he wants to protect his colleague who is being spoken to rudely by the officer. As the doctor is told to put his cellphone away, he is arrested, and he loses his medical license due to him being a criminal. His family must now go on public assistance, and his patients could die without his medical prowess. This law is going to turn upstanding citizens into criminals.

One must also worry about the competency of an officer that needs protection from a camera. You see, according to Villalba's logic, a person can stand five feet from a police scene and observe. As soon as they pull out a camera, they now become a criminal. What about dashcams? Does a person who has one have to turn it off as they approach a police car on a traffic stop? According to Villalba, they do. That is not only foolish, but dangerous as well. What about a press conference? Does the media have to stand 15 feet away? If the cops are investigating a traffic crash, can a driver get out a camera to take a photo of the scene without getting arrested? If they can, what about the media?

It appears that this law is going to get cops and their departments sued by people that are arrested. There are some serious constitutionality issues here that Villalba refuses to address. He is akin to a bull in a china shop with this bill. His own colleagues are like cowboys, with lasso's trying to rein him in, and Villalba just keeps charging, trying to push this through, wasting his time with re writes. Apparently, things got so heated for the republican, his Facebook page was closed , and he claims to have taken extra precautions due to death threats. Should he keep up this effort,there is a great chance he will be unemployed next election. You can read the original story here. Even though this pertains to Texas, should this pass, it will have repercussions across every state in the union.