With final amendments removing opposition from media groups, a bill to increase the punishment for secret recordings like those that enveloped Planned Parenthood in controversy last summer is on its way to the governor’s desk.
The measure stalled in the Senate this week as the American Civil Liberties Union and media advocates raised First Amendment concerns that overly broad language could catch lawyers and journalists in criminal activity simply for sharing material from whistleblowers. Some liberal senators voiced worries about the bill, but after supporters limited who would be held liable, it passed the state Senate Wednesday evening on a 26-13 party-line vote.
“It is narrowly tailored to address the growing threat to health care providers,” Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said.
While it is already illegal in California to record a private conversation without the consent of all parties involved, Assembly Bill 1671 would create an additional crime if someone who makes such a recording of a health care provider distribute that recording as well.
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Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, the bill’s sponsor, and other supporters argued that greater penalties were necessary to deter groups like the Irvine-based Center for Medical Progress, which sparked a national outcry last summer by releasing undercover videos that it claimed showed Planned Parenthood officials selling aborted fetuses. The organization countered that the recordings were heavily edited, and had led to an uptick of violence against their clinics.
Amendments exempting someone who distributes a recording but wasn’t involved in making it pacified media groups, though other organizations, including the ACLU, remained opposed. Republicans objected to a proposal that they said would protect an industry that should be further scrutinized instead.
“When ‘60 Minutes’ uses a hidden camera and discovers a unique story, it’s called outstanding journalism,” Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, said. “But when a private citizen does it and unmasks a very, very unpleasant truth, it’s a call for legislation.”
AB 1671 moves back to the Assembly, where it already passed, for a concurrence vote before advancing to Gov. Jerry Brown, who often vetoes bills that create a new crime. Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, who authored the bill, said he believed they had done enough to balance the concerns about its implications.
“We’re going to have to lobby the governor now,” he said. “We have a good argument to make.”