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From newsrooms to towers, lawmakers craft bills that impact stations

 - Bill filing steady as House prepares committees

With more than 1,500 bills and resolutions filed to date in the 84th Texas Legislature, lawmakers are on track to file an expected 6,000 legislative measures this session.   Almost everything is in place with the exception of House committees as House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, finalizes those assignments.  

Some Capitol insiders think Straus will issue committee assignments this week, specifically on the afternoon lawmakers recess to return home to their districts.   Others say it will be next week when the House recesses. 

The lack of committees hasn’t prevented lawmakers from filing legislation, and several bills proposed in the past week affect broadcast newsrooms and business operations. 

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed a bill that protects a civilian’s right to record or photograph police interactions with the public in public places as long as civilians do not interfere with or obstruct officers.

HB 1035 also makes it a crime if any officer deletes or damages a civilian's footage of police operations.

"Good officers know that they only benefit from their actions being filmed. And it has been my experience that good officers want bad officers identified and weeded out as much as anyone," Johnson said.   The Dallas Police Association recently said it is not opposed to civilians filming police “so long as they maintain a safe distance.”  

In other parts of the state, it has been an issue.  As the use of smartphones has proliferated in recent years, there have been a number of incidents in which Texas citizens were harassed by law enforcement for filming, photographing, and recording law enforcement officers.  There have also been instances in which news photographers have been detained or taken into custody when videotaping officers.

An Austin man was arrested in 2012 when he recorded a woman being detained by local police.  Antonio Buehler countered by filing a federal First Amendment lawsuit against APD and in 2014, a U.S. magistrate judge upheld Buehler’s constitutional right to photograph and film police officers. 

The Buehler case and others like it prompted state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, to file SB 897 in 2013, a bill similar to Johnson’s.  TAB supported Estes’ original bill but by the time the measure was heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee, it had been altered negatively to a form TAB could not support. The bill died in committee.

Power grid, tower markings

Two early bills of interest to stations that are not related to newsrooms include one that could have a huge impact on electricity costs and another that would require markings on towers related to wind farms.

The first, HB 962 by Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, would lift a key protection against monopoly or duopoly power in the electricity production market by prohibiting one company from owning more than 20 percent of the electric grid’s generation capacity. The existing protection was put in place when the electricity market was partially deregulated in 1999.  

In a potential concession to opponents of lifting the consumer protection, the measure also would prohibit the Public Utility Commission from shifting the state from an “energy only” market to a “capacity market,” which would pay power plants to maintain excess capacity. Efforts to move to a “capacity market” were lambasted in a long debate in 2013 as excessively costly and unfair to consumers.

The second, HB 946 by Paul Workman, R-Austin, would require markings similar to those required for broadcast towers for similar structures that are erected to assess a site’s potential for a wind power generation plant. Such structures also would have to be registered with the State. The measure would help crop dusters avert collisions with these structures which are built quickly and without markings or notice to pilots. Broadcast structures would be excepted from the regulation.

TAB will alert GMs and news directors when it’s necessary to weigh in with lawmakers regarding legislation or proposed amendments.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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