​Texas lawmaker wants to make it illegal to film police

Reuters / Tim Sharp
It could soon be illegal to film cops in the Lone Star State if an effort underway in the Texas House of Representatives advances to the governor’s desk and is signed into law.

The bill, filed on Tuesday in the Texas House, asks for the state to adopt legislation that would make it a class-B misdemeanor to record law enforcement activity from within 25 feet of a police officer, be it by way of a mobile phone, professional camera or anything in between.

Specifically, the bill says that “filming, recording, photographing or documenting” within 25 feet of a cop that’s “performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law” would be considered a class-b offense, and any person attempting to film the police while carrying a licensed firearm in accordance with Texas state law would be required to maintain a distance of at least 100 feet or risk facing arrest.

Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) is the author of the bill. He said the bill was filed in the House in hopes that its potential passage would make it safer for police officers to perform their job.

“It came about because my brothers/sisters in blue asked for my help to protect them. I did what I could to help,” Villalba explained on Twitter.

“I have not restricted filming police,” the lawmaker added, explaining he’s “Merely asking folks to stand back a little to let the cops do their job.”

As officer-involved shootings continue to make headlines across the country, however, some critics of Villalba’s proposal say passage of the bill would hinder an effort to achieve greater transparency within the realm of law enforcement – not to mention restrict the rights of the media and run afoul of at least one legal precedent which establishes the right to film cops across Texas.

The language in Villalba’s proposal – House Bill 2918 – attempts to instill protections for the “news media,” but narrowly defines membership in that group as applying only to broadcasters licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, print publications and photographers working on behalf of law enforcement, closing the door for bloggers and independent media.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Villalba’s bill runs afoul of a 2011 decision, Glik v. Cunniffe, in which the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit unanimously ruled that citizens have a right to film police.

“Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations,” reads information published by the American Civil Liberties Union, entitled 'Know Your Rights.'

“Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.”

Villalba wants his bill to go into effect in September 2015, according to his proposal, but House records indicate it has yet to receive a committee vote.