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House passes bill making it illegal to videotape officers in some circumstances

The Arizona House voted Wednesday to make it illegal to take photos or video recordings of police officers in some circumstances after the Republican sponsor changed his proposal to address concerns it would be unconstitutional.

The original proposal from Rep. John Kavanagh made it illegal to record within 15 feet of an officer interacting with someone unless the officer gave permission. The revised bill was approvedon a 31-28 party-line vote Wednesday lowers the distance to 8 feet.

It also now allows someone who is in a car stopped by police or is being questioned to tape the encounter and limits the scope of the types of police actions that trigger the law to only those that are possibly dangerous.

Kavanagh said he made the changes to address constitutional issues. He said the new 8-foot limit was based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case involving abortion protesters.

Democratic Minority Leader Reginald Bolding said that the measure is the wrong way to boost transparency and ease the perception in minority communities that they are not safe from police misconduct.

“One way to not do that is telling them that they cannot use their cellphones or do any type of recording unless it's within a specific set of guidelines,” Bolding said during the vote.

Media groups including The Associated Press said the measure raises serious constitutional issues. They signed onto a letter from the National Press Photographers Associationin opposition to the bill. Letting an officer decide on the spot what First Amendment-protected activity should be allowed would be problematic in many situations, the letter said.

Kavanagh's bill makes a violation a petty offense, the lowest-level Arizona crime that can bring a fine but no jail time. Refusing to stop recording when an officer orders it would be a low-level misdemeanor subject to a 30-day jail sentence.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Greg Hahne started as a news intern at KJZZ in 2020 and returned as a field correspondent in 2021. He learned his love for radio by joining Arizona State University's Blaze Radio, where he worked on the production team.