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Bill to exempt depictions of deaths from public records laws on the move

Tampa police officers were in Tallahassee on Wednesday to voice their support for a bill that would exempt photographs, video and audio recordings of murders from public records laws. Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview said she was inspired to sponsor the bill after attending the funerals of Tampa police officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis last year.

"I went to the funeral of the two officers, and the three children were my main motivation," she said.

Reporters viewed videos captured on their cruiser dashboard camera last month after local media outlets sued for their release. Under Burgin's bill, such recordings or photographs would only be available to immediate family members unless a court determines otherwise. In such a case, the court would have to notify family members of the decision.

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted unanimously in favor of HB411 on Wednesday, the bill's second committee stop.

Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, testified before the panel in support of the bill. "I don't want a child whose father is a fallen officer to go to school one day and have some kid tell him, 'Hey did you know you can watch your dad's murder on line?' That's conceivably what could happen here. Maybe the bill should be narrowed down and it should be fallen officers or tailored," she said. "But I don't want some kid to see their dad murdered on Youtube."

Florida's First Amendment Foundation has argued that such videos should be public, noting that a 2006 video showing teen Martin Lee Anderson beaten to death in a Florida boot camp resulted in the state shutting down such facilities.

"If this exemption had been in place at the time, the public and the press would not have been able to see for themselves what had happened to the boy and, worse, those responsible may never have been held accountable," said Barbara Petersen, the Foundation's president.

"If the family feels the government has abused its right or authority, then they have the ability to do with that video what they wish," Burgin said. "If they want to put it out there for everyone to see, that's for them as a family to do. And I think in the instances that there are abuses, it should be made open. But for the situation we're in now and the way the wives of these officers feel about this, i wanted to get out in front and protect their rights."

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale has a similar bill in the Senate.