Proposal to Limit Filming of Law Enforcement Agents Dies

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The Republican state lawmaker who wanted to prohibit people from video recording law enforcement agents up-close officially killed the controversial proposal.

The bill by state Sen. John Kavanagh would have made it a crime to film cops without their consent within 20 feet of "law enforcement activity." A first violation could have meant $300 in fines, and any more than that would have been punishable with up to six months in jail.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona immediately came out to say that the unnecessary restriction was a violation of First Amendment rights.

Kavanagh, who is a retired police officer, argued he was just trying to protect the safety of law enforcement agents.

The bill didn't even make it to a hearing, according to the Arizona Republic.
"It generated very emotional opposition on both sides," Kavanagh said. "That dooms a bill a bill to failure. Once a bill becomes so mired in controversy ... it's time to move on."

Among other issues, there was concern that the bill may have prevented individuals from recording their own interactions with police. Kavanagh said that had not been his intent with this bill.

The bill came at a time of increased scrutiny of police shootings nationwide, from Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., to Eric Garner in New York. In November, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona launched Mobile Justice AZ, a free smartphone app that allows individuals to automatically send videos of law enforcement activity to the local ACLU if it appears someone's rights have been violated.
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Kavanagh had initially said the proliferation of cellphones with video capability has created new concerns that must be addressed. He said his bill recognizes individuals' right to record law enforcement, but puts "reasonable restraints" on it.

"I'll go to my grave believing there's nothing wrong with requiring people who want to video police to stand 1.5 car lengths away," he said. 

First Amendment attorney Dan Barr had called the bill an "unconstitutional solution to a nonexistent problem."

"You've had a whole slew of courts hold that people have a First Amendment right to take video of the police in public," he said. "If this bill ever became law, it would be struck down in a nanosecond."

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