Texas Senate Bill 1512 would deem “sensitive crime scene” photos as not subject to public disclosure under the state’s Public Information Act. The “news media” can obtain access to the photos by seeking a court order, but only if one is a “bona fide member of the news media who is engaging in news-gathering activity.”
“News media” is narrowly defined as a television or radio station that is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission; certain newspapers; and magazines that publish at regular intervals and are of interest to the general public in connection with the dissemination of news or public affairs.
The bill was amended to create an exception for “a person who establishes to the governmental body an interest in a sensitive crime scene image that is based on, or connected with, or in support of the creation, in any medium, of an expressive work.” Expressive work is defined as:
- A play, book, article, musical composition, audiovisual work, radio or television program, work of art, or work of political, educational or newsworthy value;
- Work of news, information, current events or other matters of public interest or concern; or
- An advertisement or commercial announcement of the work described above.
The bill was amended to exempt “expressive works.” Gov. Rick Perry signed the amended bill into law. It goes into effect September 1, 2013.
The bill’s definition of “news media” would exclude book authors or publishers, documentary filmmakers, cable news shows, online publishers who publish frequently but not at regular intervals and trade journals or other publications that do not appeal to the general interest.
It treats various media differently by allowing access to the image to some segments of the media but not others. This, in essence, is a punishment for book authors or filmmakers. The Supreme Court has condemned the selective imposition of a penalty imposed on one medium but not others or specific portions of media but not others.
The bill offers no rationale for providing access to the pictures to reporters or broadcasters but denying it to other members of the media. If the legislation is motivated by an intent to protect the privacy of the survivors of those depicted in the crime photo, it does not serve that rationale when the photos are otherwise available to newspapers and broadcasters.
- On March 8, 2013, the bill was introduced  and referred to the Senate Committee on Open Government.
- The committee held a hearing on the bill on April 15, 2013.
- Media Coalition submitted a memo in opposition  to the members of the committee on April 19, 2013. The memo explained the constitutional issues with the bill.
- On April 23, 2013, the committee recommended the bill be passed.
- The bill was amended  on May 13, 2013 to create an exemption for “expressive works.” The Senate passed the bill as amended and sent it to the House for consideration. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Government Efficiency and Reform.
- The committee recommended the bill be passed. On May 22, 2013, the House passed the bill with a vote of 145-3. The bill was sent to Gov. Rick Perry.
- Gov. Perry signed the bill into law on June 14, 2013. It goes into effect September 1, 2013.