The House State Government Committee today killed a bill that would have closed access to body cam footage, including footage related to questions of police use of force and misconduct. It instead asked for the Advisory Committee on Open Government to study the issues and report back in January.
(See Tennessean story: Attempt to seal police body cam footage fails)
The Advisory Committee on Open Government is a broad-based group of 14 members representing various civic organizations, media, law enforcement and city and county governments. (See who is on the Advisory Committee on Open Government.)
The original language in H.B. 876 had nothing to do with body cameras. But state Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, took over the bill and had worked to amend it to govern what video footage shot by police on body cameras would be available to the public under the Tennessee Public Records Act.
Casada said he wanted to protect innocent bystanders and juveniles who were recorded on the cameras. But the amendment that passed out of the House subcommittee last week went much farther than that and created mandatory confidentiality of body cam footage having to do with questions of police use of force or misconduct for an indefinite amount of time.
Some news coverage:
Knoxville News Sentinel: Bill would black out police body cam videos in Tennessee
Associated Press: Tennessee legislation would seal body cam footage
Bristol Herald Courier editorial: Lawmakers should vote no on HB876
Commercial Appeal editorial: Bill to delay release of video from police body cameras nullifies rationale for their use
By the time the bill reached the full House State Government Committee on Tuesday, it had three amendments being offered, two different ones by Casada and one by state Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton. Sanderson’s amendment included language for the Advisory Committee on Open Government to study the issues as well as a one-year moratorium on public access to all footage except that related to questions of police use of force or misconduct.
Sanderson told the committee he wanted to verbally change his amendment so that it only sent the issue to ACOG for further study. But then the committee voted to simply send the issue to ACOG to study without voting on the bill or adding Sanderson’s amendment. This essentially killed the bill.
From The Tennessean:
Lawmakers discussed the possibility that they would need to advance the legislation through the legislature in order to get the advisory committee to take up the issue.
Although Sanderson’s amendment would have completely eliminated Casada’s changes to the legislation, some committee members expressed discomfort with an attempt to advance the bill beyond the committee.
“I’m not voting for this bill in this format, period,” said Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown. “It sends the wrong message. I think it is too quick. I would like to see some sort of a study before we vote on a bill of this nature, even as amended.”
Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, said he wanted to make sure law enforcement officials would be consulted in the discussion of retaining body camera footage.
Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, noted that the advisory committee initiated discussions on charging citizens a fee for inspecting public records after lawmakers asked for recommendations. He added that the legislature did not have to pass a bill to direct the Advisory Committee on Open Government to initiate the discussion on the subject.
The House committee ultimately decided to send the measure to the advisory committee with the hope they would help make recommendations that could lead to police body camera legislation, which could be advanced next year.
The chairman of the House State Government committee, state Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, is one of the two lawmakers on the Advisory Committee on Open Government. The other is state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston. Both the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association also have seats on the advisory committee.
A companion bill, S.B. 910, carried by state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood, that had been on calendar for Senate State & Local Government Committee was sent to its general subcommittee, effectively shelving the bill.