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As One Body Cameras Bill Gets Close To Final Approval, Another Heads To Governor

AP Photo

Before the House quickly adjourned, two body cameras bills were quickly moving through the legislative process, with one already headed to the Governor—which means the status of one of the measures is unknown.

Last week, the Florida House unanimously passed a body cameras bill by Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park).

“This bill creates a new section of the statute requiring law enforcement agencies that permit law enforcement officers to wear body cameras to develop policies and procedures governing the proper use, maintenance, and storage of the body cameras and recorded data. The bill also requires law enforcement agencies to provide policies and procedures, training to all personnel who use, maintain, store, or release body cameras’ recording data,” said Jones.

Originally, the bill was a mandate, requiring all law enforcement agencies to wear body cameras.

“Moving this from a mandate to being permissive was something that we understood had to happen,” said Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee). “So, this will be transparency for both police officers and for the individuals that may come in contact with them.”

Williams had intended to carry a similar bill. But he says he decided, instead, to join forces with Jones in becoming the bill’s other House sponsor.

“Now, most of our law enforcement agents and officers are phenomenal,” added Williams. “They’re out there doing what they’re supposed to do: serve and protect. Unfortunately, there are sometimes when that serve and protect goes a little bit awry, and it’s great to know that we will have a provision in law if we pass this bill will give us that protection….that Florida won’t look like Baltimore, Tulsa, New York, other states in the union. We know that all lives matter, and we know that all lives are sacred.”

And, after receiving full House approval, that same chamber took up another body cameras bill providing a public records exemption for body camera recordings done by law enforcement.

It’s a measure that law enforcement groups have said if it becomes law, would encourage more agencies to use the cameras. And, Representative Jones says the measure goes hand-in-hand with the previous bill.

“The bill we just explained dealt with the policies and procedures of body cameras, but without the policies and procedures, there has to be some type of privacy that goes along with it,” said Jones.

So, what does the bill do?

“This bill would create public records exemptions for body cameras in private residences, in health care, mental health care or social services facilities, and anywhere else a reasonable person expects to be private,” added Jones. “The bill allows law enforcement to disclose to the recording in the furtherance of his duties or to another law enforcement entity. This bill still permits someone to request a video, even if an exception to the disclosure applies in certain circumstances.”

His bill also allows for someone depicted in the video or a representative of that person to request the video. In addition, a third party is allowed to request the video through a court order.

Rep. David Santiago (R-Deltona) praised the measure. Months ago, he’d filed a similar bill—which he later withdrew in favor of Jones’ bill.

“I think it’s important to note that this particular public records exemption was a lot of hours of work and negotiations with all interested parties that does strike the balance between protecting people’s privacy and the public interest. It’s a good public records exemption,” said Santiago.

And, Jones agrees.

“What the media has made this to be, it is not that,” said Jones. “This bill does not remove access from the public. All we wanted to do is make sure that if the police officers are going to wear the body cameras, when they go out into a private location, that that material remains private. You don’t want material from your house on YouTube, on TMZ, on different things of that nature. We want to make sure that your things remain private.”

The measure passed the House with overwhelming support. And, with the House and Senate’s approval, it now heads to Governor Rick Scott.

Meanwhile, before the House adjourned early, the Senate was scheduled to take up Jones’ bill making sure guidelines are in place for use of body cameras Thursday. If it passes, it will also head to the Governor’s desk. An aide to Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker)—the Senate bill’s main sponsor—says the bill still has a chance since it's still on this week's Senate's special Order Calendar.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.