California legislators, in keeping with their penchant for regulation, are seeking to control yet another aspect of people’s lives: whom they may photograph —even in public places.
On May 17th, the state Senate approved SB 606, a bill that would set minimum punishments for anyone who “harasses” a child because of his parent’s occupation — which, according to the definitions in the bill, may include any attempt to photograph or record the child without written consent from his parent or guardian. It requires a minimum 10-day prison sentence.
The bill was drafted with the children of public officials in mind, because, according to the Senate analysis from May 22: “The children of public figures are susceptible to fanatical attention and harassment because of their parents’ occupation.
Of course, harassment is unacceptable for any reason, and many cases do warrant legal punishment. But the nature of the punishment should depend on the nature of the crime — not on the nature of the defendants’ parents’ employment. This measure would legislate preferential treatment toward one group of harassment victims— based solely on their parents’ jobs — over another.
In an attempt to prove its necessity, the bill refers to a February killing spree committed by former police officer Christopher Dorner. His victims included the adult daughter of another police officer, and his suicide note included a list of 50 other intended targets, including Los Angeles Police Department Captain Phil Tingirides and six of his family members. This was certainly a terrible tragedy — but it is ineffective in making a case for SB 606. Although Dorner’s list of intended victims did include a public official and his family, he chose them out of revenge for his termination — not because of his occupation as a police officer. Even if Dorner had targeted the Tingirides family because of the captain’s job, SB 606 would not have affected the outcome. Dorner was not simply a harasser, but a murderer, and therefore SB 606 would not have had any negligible impact on his sentence.
Of course, sometimes people are harassed because they have a family member who works as a public official, but it is just one of many of reasons harassment occurs. As with similar laws, this proposal is more likely intended to please a special interest group that to facilitate real change. And the public sector is definitely one of the state’s favorite interest groups — particularly, public sector unions.
In an interview last November, former senate leader Gloria Romero described the influence of public sector unions as “tremendous,” stating that they had a “political and money war chest” unlike that of any other group. In fact, they were the second-biggest campaign contributors to Senator de Leon — the politician who introduced the bill —from May 2008 to May 2013, according to Maplight.org.
In addition to questionable fairness, this law has the potential to bog down the state’s legal system. The California Motion Picture Association has spoken out against the measure, and its arguments were included in the Senate analysis of the bill. It claims that the law would conflict with free speech rights, since it deals with activity that may occur on public property as well as public spaces such as beaches, sidewalks, restaurants, shopping malls, streets and parks. Certainly, giving the government the power to regulate photography in public places seems to go far beyond the limits set by free speech rights, in addition to setting a frightening precedent for adding additional regulations in these spaces.
It also points out that the language in the bill puts anyone who takes pictures or video of the public at risk of prosecution. This could create problems not only for the journalists and paparazzi who make a living taking photographs of public figures, but also for the average citizen or tourist. As the association points out in the bill analysis, these days, “anyone with a cellphone (sic) is a photographer.” Anyone from a parent photographing his child at a soccer game to a tourist snapping Instagram photos of Hollywood runs the risk of winding up in court because of it.
And California’s drowning courts are in no place to hear cases debating the reason why someone took a photograph. Over the past five years, the justice system has seen budget cuts totaling $1 billion, according to cal.gov. Since 2010, 114 courtrooms and 22 entire courthouses have shut down, and 30 have reduced their hours, according to cal.courts.gov. In some communities, such as in Fresno and Kern counties, residents must travel hours to reach the closest courthouse. The state website also warns that without funding restoration, many courts will have to delay granting restraining orders to domestic violence victims.
Uncovering what motivated someone to take a photograph is arbitrary — if not impossible. Having already passed in the Senate, the Assembly must decide if it moves forward. But before it does, it should first consider whether it oversteps the capabilities — and the rights — of the state’s government.
Katherine Timpf is a 2012-2013 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation. Follow her on Twitter: @kctimpf, Camera image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kathlyn Ehl