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Proposal would shield mass killing photos, videos

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The public would be blocked from accessing photos, video or audio involving the killing of a victim of mass violence, under a measure advancing in the Florida Senate.

The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on Tuesday backed a proposal (SB 186) that would create a public records exemption for records related to the death of an individual in incidents in which three or more people, not including the killer, are slain in an intentional act of violence.

“In the age of the internet there is potential for commercialization of these photographic and video products,” Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who sponsored the bill, said. “There is also some law enforcement that is concerned about these being used as recruiting tools and training tools for what was done right and not done right.”

The First Amendment Foundation has expressed opposition to the bill.

Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the measure, which currently defines the “killing of a victim of mass violence” as “all acts or events that cause or otherwise relate to the death,” needs to be more narrowly drawn.

McCoy pointed to security footage from last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The videos showed how suspect Nikolas Cruz gained accessed to the campus and how law enforcement officials responded to the massacre.

“Our concern is there is some footage that actually would have value in being able to be accessed by the public, the press, or watchdog groups,” McCoy said.

Sen. Aaron Bean, meanwhile, said all victims should be afforded the same privacy protections as those of mass killings.

“My state attorney has come to me and said there are some egregious cases of just one person being murdered and people for bad purposes want to see pictures,” Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said.

The measure, which requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers, has one more stop to go before reaching the Senate floor.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee is slated to take up a similar proposal (HB 7017) on Thursday.