There’s been much talk about how State Rep. Jason Villalba’s House Bill 2918 criminalizes bloggers filming police officers, especially if they’re CHL holders who happen to be lawfully carrying at the time. Worse yet, it takes the “some animals are more equal than others” approach to First Amendment rights, declaring MSM employees as “real journalists” and bloggers, citizens journalists and everyone else as second class citizens.
Texas State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Texas) has found himself at the center of controversy after filing a bill that would make it a crime for bloggers and independent journalists — as well as regular citizens — to film police officers. Despite the backlash from free speech advocates, Villalba is insisting that his bill “does not infringe on constitutional rights” or “limit liberty in any way.”
The current law, Section 38.15(1) of the Texas Penal Code, makes it a crime if anyone “interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or otherwise interferes with a peace officer while the peace officer is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law.”
The bill, HB 2918, adds to the definition of what constitutes “interfering” with an officer’s duties, and would make it a Class B Misdemeanor to film, record, photograph, or document the officer within 25 feet while that officer is performing his official duties. That distance is extended to 100 feet if the person is carrying a concealed handgun. There is an exception for news media, but the current language of the bill does not include bloggers, independent journalists, or private citizens, and it is not clear whether online media outlets would be included in the exception either.
The fact that CHL holders are statistically among the most lawful citizens, having already passed an extensive background check, seems lost on Rep. Villalba (who seems to be trying very hard to win the title of worst Republican state representative).
The bill would also prevent people from recording their own encounters with police, which adds a due process violation cherry on top of Villalba’s disdain for the first and second amendment.
However, the unconstitutional stupidity doesn’t stop there. If you read the actual text of the bill, there’s no allowance made for private property. So if I’m filing a police officer arrest someone in the street 15 feet in front of my house, Villalba’s proposed law says I’m committing a crime.
Being a police officer is a difficult and necessary job, but ordinary citizens filming them aren’t endangering their lives. Rep. Villalba seems to have no understanding that the right retained by the people themselves are part of our Constitution’s series of checks and balances.
Villalba’s bill addresses no demonstrable abuse and attempts to limit the rights of citizens for no clear gain. It’s almost certainly headed for the dustbin of legislative neglect, but one wonders why Rep. Villalba felt the need to introduce it at all…