“This bill is so broad that it essentially encompasses all police activity.”
Arizona Republicans are considering a new bill that civil rights advocates warn could criminalize the very acts of protesting or observing law enforcement.
The bill, sponsored by a retired police officer and Fountain Hills Republican Sen. John Kavanagh, would drastically restrict the public’s ability to observe the actions of law enforcement. The vague language in the bill mirrors that of a 2022 law—also sponsored by Kavanagh—that was blocked by the courts for violating the First Amendment.
Senate Bill 1047 expands the definition of third-degree criminal trespass and would give law enforcement broad authority to arrest someone for interfering with a crime scene and refusing to aid a police officer. This would include anyone who crosses police tape or ignores instructions from law enforcement to stay away from an area where the officer believes “a crime has possibly occurred” with a class 2 misdemeanor.
“While this bill doesn’t specifically criminalize recording police officers, it criminalizes a much wider type of activity,” said Jared Keenan, legal director for the ACLU of Arizona. “This bill is so broad that it essentially encompasses all police activity—which people have a constitutional right not only to observe, but to record.”
Keenan, who spoke before a state senate committee meeting in opposition to the bill, described the wording in the bill as so vague that it could allow law enforcement to declare an entire city where there is a civil disturbance—such as a protest—as being part of a crime scene, and could penalize anyone not just protestors, but anyone observing the protest.
This bill, along with its 2022 predecessor, are a direct response to the police killing of George Floyd, and the worldwide protests against police violence that followed. Bystander cellphone videos are largely credited with revealing police misconduct and reshaping the conversation around police transparency.
Republican Arizona lawmakers say the legislation is needed to limit people with cameras who deliberately impede officers, though no evidence of this was offered during discussion of the bill to support this claim.
A Two-Pronged Approach
SB 1047 is one of two bills introduced by Kavanagh this year that could have a chilling effect on police accountability. The other is Senate Bill 1148, which would add a financial barrier to obtaining video recordings taken by law enforcement, such as body cam footage.
If passed, SB 1148 would allow municipalities to charge a fee to obtain police recordings, with an exception for a victim of a crime or their family members. While the municipalities would only be allowed to charge a one-time fee, there are no limits on how much the fee would be, and no guarantee regarding how quickly the request is fulfilled.
The effect of this sort of measure has been seen recently in Nebraska, where a news organization was charged $44,000 for public records. The fee was blocked in court, however, as state law in Nebraska only allows government agencies to charge for the time spent redacting documents. No such requirement exists in Kavanagh’s bill, however, paving the way for municipalities to charge any price without restriction.
“When you place an unspecified amount, in terms of what ‘reasonable fee’ will do, that will then deter individuals from accessing public records,” said Democratic Phoenix Rep. Marcelino Quiñonez. “The purpose of public records laws is to hold public officials accountable to the public—not to hold government officials accountable to the public if the public can pay a portion of a police officer’s salary.”
Where do they stand? Both bills have been passed in the State Senate and are currently being considered by members of the Arizona House of Representatives. The Copper Courier reached out to Gov. Katie Hobbs regarding her plans to either sign or veto SB 1047 and SB 1148, but did not hear back prior to publication.