Arizona Legislature will not defend law restricting police filming

Arizona Legislature will not defend law restricting police filming

PHOENIX (AP) – Republican leaders of the Arizona Legislature will not try to defend a new law limiting close-up police filming that was blocked by a federal judge, a decision that essentially ends the fight over the controversial proposal.

Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers said they would not intervene in the case by the Friday deadline set by a federal judge when he temporarily blocked the new law from taking effect last week on First Amendment grounds.

And the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, said Friday he was unable to find an outside group to defend the law, which has been opposed by news media organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The groups will now call for the law, which came into effect next week, to be permanently blocked.

Kavanagh said he will review the ruling by US District Judge John J. Tuchi and see if he can create a law that runs with constitutional consensus. He said the law is needed to keep people from distracting police as they try to make arrests, but Tuchi agreed with protesters that it overrides precedent that says it is the right of the public and the press to film the police doing their jobs.

Tuchi noted that there are already Arizona laws that interfere with police, and that it seems unconstitutional to identify people for taking video. And he wrote in his ruling that prohibiting someone from using a news phone or video camera to record is a content-based restriction that is illegal — without prohibiting other actions.

“If the goal of HB2319 is to prevent interference with law enforcement activities, the Court does not see how the presence of a person recording video near an officer interferes with the officer’s activities,” Tuchi wrote.

The law makes it illegal for police officers to knowingly film 8 feet (2.5 meters) or closer if the officer tells the person to stop. And in the case of private property, an officer who determines that a person is disturbing or that the area is unsafe may order the person to stop filming even if the recording is being done with the permission of the owner.

Cellphone surveillance videos are largely credited with exposing police misconduct — such as the 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers — and reshaping the conversation about police transparency. But Arizona’s Republican lawmakers say the legislation was needed to limit people with cameras who intentionally obstruct officers.

The ACLU and the National Press Photographers Association warned Kavanagh and the Legislature that the proposal would violate the First Amendment, but it passed anyway with only Republican support. The NPPA, on behalf of itself and more than two dozen press groups and media companies including The Associated Press, wrote to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey after the measure was passed, also telling him it was unconstitutional and insist on a veto. Ducey signed the bill anyway.

Mickey H. Osterreicher, the general counsel for the photographers association, called the law “an unconstitutional solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“It’s always a lot easier to write a letter than it is to file a lawsuit,” he said. “But some people like to do it the easy way and others are forced to do it the hard way.”

As soon as a coalition of media groups and the ACLU sued, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich refused to defend the law, as did the prosecutor and the sheriff’s office in Maricopa County, home of Phoenix.

Bowers said he and his fellow Republicans ignored their opponents who said the bill was unconstitutional and basically said “Let’s try and see what happens.”

“But when you get right down to where you’re going to have to start spending money, no,” Bowers said. “We will wait until next year.”

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