PHOENIX (AP) – Republican leaders in the Arizona Legislature will not try to defend a new law limiting close-up police taping that has been blocked by a federal judge, a ruling that effectively ends the fight over the controversial proposal.
Senate President Karen Phan and House Speaker Rusty Bowers both said they would not intervene in the case by the Friday deadline set by a federal judge when he temporarily blocked the new law last week on First Amendment grounds.
And the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. John Cavanagh, said Friday he was unable to find an outside group to defend the law, which has been challenged by media organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The groups will now call for the law, which was due to come into effect next week, to be blocked outright.
Kavanagh said he would review the decision by U.S. District Judge John J. Tutsi will see if he can create a law that will approve the constitutional convention. He said the law is necessary to prevent people from distracting police while trying to make an arrest, but Tucci agreed with challengers that it runs counter to precedents that say the public and press have a right to film police does their job.
Tucci noted that Arizona laws already exist prohibiting police intervention, and that singling out people for videotaping appears to be unconstitutional. And he wrote in his ruling that prohibiting someone from using a phone or news video camera to record — without prohibiting other actions — is a content-based restriction that is illegal.
“If the goal of HB2319 is to prevent interference with law enforcement activities, the Court fails to see how the presence of a person recording video near an officer interferes with the officer’s activities,” Tuchi wrote.
The law makes it illegal to knowingly film officers 8 feet (2.5 meters) or closer if the officer tells the person to stop. And on private property, an officer who decides someone is trespassing or the area is unsafe can order the person to stop filming even if the recording is being done with the owner’s permission.
Cell phone videos from bystanders are largely credited with exposing police misconduct — such as the 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers — and reshaping the debate around police transparency. But Arizona’s Republican lawmakers say the legislation was necessary to crack down on people with body cameras who intentionally obstruct officers.
Kavanagh and the legislature were repeatedly warned by the ACLU and the National Press Photographers Association that the proposal would violate the First Amendment, but it passed anyway with only Republican support. The NPPA, on behalf of itself and more than two dozen press groups and media companies, including the Associated Press, also wrote to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey after the measure passed, also telling him it was unconstitutional and asking for a veto. Ducey signed the bill anyway.
Mickey H. Osterreicher, the general counsel of the photographers’ union, called the law “an unconstitutional solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.”
“It’s always a lot easier to write a letter than to have to file a lawsuit,” he said. “But some people like to do it the easy way and others are forced to do it the hard way.”
After a coalition of media groups and the ACLU sued, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich declined to defend the law, as did the district attorney and sheriff’s office in Maricopa County, where Phoenix resides.
Bowers said he and other Republicans ignored opponents who said the bill was unconstitutional and essentially said “let’s just try and see what happens.”
“But when you get right down to where you have to start spending money, no,” Bowers said. “We’ll wait until next year.”