Body camera bill passes Senate committee

UPDATE, 3-17-17: The Senate passed Johnson’s body cam bill, S.B. 442, on  Thursday 27-0.


Original story:

A bill that would exempt from the state’s public records laws police body camera footage collected inside schools, hospitals and, when no crime is being investigated, private residences passed the Senate State & Local Government committee Tuesday.

State Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin

Two amendments were added to the legislation carried by state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin. One specifies that “video taken of minors in a school that serves any grades from kindergarten through grade twelve shall be treated as confidential.”

The other, suggested by Lt. Gov Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, puts a five-year sunset provision on the bill, requiring lawmakers to review the statute and renew it by July 1, 2022 or let it expire.

Three other legislative packages directly related to body camera footage had been filed, but sponsors of two of them on the House side have signed onto the companion bill to Johnson’s, which is carried state Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin. The two lawmakers signed onto Whitson’s bill are state Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville. State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, who also had a body cam bill, signed on as a co-sponsor to Johnson’s bill.

For more coverage of the body camera bill:

Police body camera bill continues making its way through legislature (Franklin Home Page)

Lawmakers might change what body camera footage is public (The Tennessean)

Video from the Senate committee hearing.

From the Franklin Home Page:

During the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday, Johnson had Brentwood Police Department Jeff Hughes testify on the issue. Hughes is the acting president of Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police. He said the organization didn’t take issue with what’s proposed.

“This will make our jobs much easier and give us some direction on what’s available as an open record,” Hughes said. “It’s a benefit to the citizens and gives them a right to privacy.”

The bill wouldn’t prevent the district attorney or legal counsel for someone charged with a criminal offense in an interaction with a minor or health care facility from providing it to each other, pending a case or appeal.

“This bill satisfies the concerns of various groups,” Tennessee Coalition for Open Government Executive Director Deborah Fisher said. “This is very a complicated issue, and the bill was narrowly tailored to protect personal privacy, and at the same time make transparency easier to achieve.”
During the bill’s presentation, Johnson added that footage recorded in elementary, middle and high schools wouldn’t be available as a public record either.

The Franklin Republican said that while the use of body cameras is a positive for law enforcement and citizens, this legislation also takes a step in a good direction.

“The open records advocates agreed,” Johnson said. “It will go a long way toward and allowing them to capture footage. It provides that nothing will be prevented from being used in a criminal proceeding or evidentiary in nature.”

The Office of the Attorney General, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and the Public Defenders Conference all report the bill will have no impact on departmental operations.

The bill will now forward to the Senate Calendar Committee. Members had seven yes votes for it to continue, with Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) abstaining.

What do you think?