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If this bill were already law, Parkland video of BSO response might not be seen

A Florida lawmaker wants to prevent the public from seeing photos and videos or listening to the audio of mass shootings like the one that happened in Parkland last year.

The reason for the measure, said Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican from Thonotosassa, is that such material can be turned into profit, exploiting the victims of the tragedy in the process, or it can be used for more nefarious purposes.

“In the age of the internet there is potential for commercialization of these photographic and video products,” said Lee, who sponsored the bill. “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 Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on Tuesday backed Lee’s SB 186 that would create a public records exemption for material related to mass shootings in which three or more people, not including the killer, are slain in an intentional act of violence. A similar bill, HB 7017, is to be considered Thursday at the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

The legislation comes on the heels of last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where video revealed that Broward County sheriff’s deputies did not run inside to confront the shooter.

Those revelations and others led to deputies resigning and Gov. Ron DeSantis removing Broward Sheriff Scott Israel from office.

The Broward County State Attorney, the Broward County Commission and the Florida Sheriff’s Association all support the bill.

But the First Amendment Foundation has serious concerns. The organization hasn’t yet taken a formal position on it.

President Barbara Petersen said Wednesday that the bill would prevent news outlets and the public from scrutinizing police actions.

“As we learned both in the Pulse case and the Parkland case, when we were able to obtain the records through court order, we were able to show some major problems and lapses with the law enforcement response to both of those emergencies,” Petersen said. “And we couldn’t count on law enforcement to self-report their own shortcomings.”

The bill allows for the media to petition a judge to release the recordings, but that can be wildly expensive, Petersen said. The foundation and several media outlets had to spend about $100,000 suing to get video from the Parkland shooting, she said.

They sued to get video from outside the school, not inside the school, where the gunman killed 17 students and staff.

Lee said his bill would have applied to the Parkland shooting. He added he’s sympathetic to concerns about the bill, and he said he’s meeting with Petersen on Thursday afternoon.

“You cannot trust government to police itself,” he said. “There’s no question about that whatsoever. And this shouldn’t be a mechanism to be used in an overly broad manner to do just that.”

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 video footage that showed how confessed killer Nikolas Cruz gained access to the Parkland campus and how law enforcement officials responded.

“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,” said Bean, R-Fernandina Beach.

Bean has sponsored SB 1146 that would prohibit photo, video or audio of any shooting from being released, but it appears to have little chance of passing. It has not been assigned to any committees and has no House sponsor.

Lee’s bill, which requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers, has one more stop to go before reaching the Senate floor.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.