Bill of the Week
HB 2918: Villalba's bill would restrict filming of police activity
Author: Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas
Filed: March 10, 2015
Criticism has hit state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, from all corners since his March 10 filing of HB 2918, which would limit every Texan's ability to peacefully film police activity (and restrict citizens not affiliated with certain types of media outlets even further), but the Dallas Republican maintains that those casting stones should wait – just one more goddamn minute – until Villalba's had the opportunity to properly file a committee substitute.
In its initial form, HB 2918 amends Section 38.15 of the Texas Penal Code to restrict those filming police activity to 25 feet of distance between the person and the officer (those carrying concealed handguns must back up another 100 feet). Exceptions are made for news media outlets, though the definition's somewhat archaic; under Villalba's language even an online outlet like the Texas Tribune would get left out.
Villalba called the narrow terms of inclusion "an oversight" when reached by telephone last Thursday, saying that he didn't properly vet the bill's language when it passed through his desk. He added that he originally "perceived" that the definition of "news media" would include online news sources.
"What we were trying to avoid was the independent blogger who is seeking more to advocate than actually report," he said. "That, really, is the center of the legislation. We weren't trying to limit anyone's ability to film officers and keep them accountable. All we're trying to do is give the officers a little bit of breathing room to do their jobs and not be interrupted by this group of agitators – a small group of individuals who are not interested in reporting or keeping people accountable, but rather want to disrupt the process of police being able to do their job."
Who falls under the category of "agitator" might be less clear than "news media." Advances in technology have made everybody with a cell phone able to film police, and Villalba makes no effort to contest the First Amendment's protection of every American's right to record police. In addition to including online outlets in the legislation, Villalba said he also intends to specifically include situations in which the individual being addressed by the police officer is able to record from any distance.
"If I'm pulled over in my automobile and I want to be sure to get my officer on video, we don't want to restrict that," he said. "This is for outside, third-party entities who are hoping to disrupt the process.
"We don't want to restrict anyone's ability to record police officers doing their job," he added. "All we're asking is, 'Can you step back from being two feet in front of the officer's face with your camera?' We've asked for 25. That figure comes from standard police training protocol when they secure an area with crime scene tape. If that [distance] is too much for people, that's something we can talk about. If it needs to go back to 15, we can get to that."