(CN) – An Arizona senator who wanted to make it a crime to take close-up video of police has killed his own bill because of public outcry.
Senate Bill 1054 would have criminalized shooting video of police from a distance closer than 20 feet, unless permission was given.
Arizona Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, sponsored the bill, which was introduced earlier this month, but he was pressured into killing it this week, citing public backlash over concerns about free speech under the First Amendment.
“It generated very emotional opposition on both sides,” Kavanagh said in a statement. “That dooms a bill to failure. Once a bill becomes so mired in controversy…it’s time to move on.”
Kavanagh told U.S. News & World Report that he sponsored the bill based on his experience as a Port Authority officer at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City during the 1970s.
He says he found syringes on one of R&B singer Wilson Pickett’s bandmates and had him up against the wall, when Pickett approached him and asked, “Is this going to take long?”
Kavanagh said it was enough of a distraction to allow the bandmate to throw a package of heroin behind a television as he looked away.
But opponents expressed concern that SB 1054 would prevent people from recording their encounters with police and shroud law enforcement activity in secrecy.
“I’m glad he decided not to waste any further time on it,” Arizona First Amendment attorney Dan Barr told Courthouse News on Thursday. “To his credit, he responded to the people’s reaction and saw that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. I guess he also heard his colleagues, because if you know a bill isn’t going to get out of committee, you can either kill it or watch it go down in flames.”
Barr said legislators recognized there is no evidence that individuals who shoot video of police have become an issue.
“He just imagined this as a problem without really thinking it through or basing it on any real-world incidents,” Barr said of Kavanagh. “The law already provides a remedy for police if someone is actually interfering with their job. You have to actually be interfering with something. The irony is that holding the phone wouldn’t have been a crime under the law, shooting video would; yet the officer wouldn’t even know. [The bill] was a solution to a non-existent problem.”
When asked if he thought the bill was in reaction to the many police shootings around the country that have been caught on video, Barr suggested it was a likely possibility.
“That’s the only thing that makes sense, because [Kavanagh] has never really explained it,” he said. “I bet the police probably wish those videos didn’t exist, yet no one has ever alleged the individuals who shot the video were interfering with police.”
Bar added, “My understanding is that someone proposed a similar deal in Texas – it was killed by its sponsor, too – but I think the irony is that a lot of police and prosecutors want body cameras, because it roots out the bad behavior and protects the police from unfounded allegations of brutality.”
Will Gaona, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said there is no doubt the bill was unconstitutional and that, like Barr, he does not believe there is a need for it.
“It’s pretty clear that it was unconstitutional,” Gaona told Courthouse News. “I’m not at all surprised [Kavanagh] killed it because it infringes on people’s First Amendment right to video people’s encounters with law enforcement. It was simply a bad idea and as far as there being an actual issue, I certainly haven’t heard of any law enforcement agencies say there is a use for this type of law.”
Kavanagh is out of the office until Monday and was not available for comment. Barr is an attorney with Perkins Coie LLP in Phoenix.
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