Earlier this month I wrote a lengthy but necessary breakdown of Texas’ “Cop Watcher” bill. Sponsored by Dallas-area House representative Jason Villalba, HB 2918 as filed would have changed the way activists and citizen journalists are allowed to interact with police officers.

Almost immediately after the bill was filed, Villalba came under fire from local and national activists who said that the bill was too restrictive and destroyed the ability for citizens to hold police accountable. Under pressure from constituents, activists, and his own colleagues, Villalba now appears amenable to amending—but not pulling—the controversial bill:

“I will not consider pulling this bill but what I will do is considerably rewrite it,” the North Dallas Republican said during a taping of WFAA’s Inside Texas Politics to air Sunday morning at 9:00.

Villalba appeared on the program to explain House Bill 2918 that makes it a misdemeanor to photograph police within 25 feet of them. News media was excluded.

During the taping, Villalba said he will reduce the distance to 15 feet but make it apply to everyone, including journalists.

“All we’re saying is provide [police] a halo. Give them a little room. We’re not saying don’t film. We’re not saying stop. We’re saying just step back a little bit,” explained Villalba.

Rep. Villalba further stirred the pot by blocking those who appeared to challenge this position on the bill via Facebook and Twitter. He has since unblocked many of those people—and offered an interview to one junior journalist who was blocked before Villalba answered her question—but maintains that he and his staff made the call to tighten up security on social media as a matter of safety:

“So many people who really don’t have a dog in this fight are willing to throw rocks,” he says. “And, look: Sticks and stones. I have a problem when they begin making threats against my family.” He says he’s had to engage a security detail to ensure their safety in recent days.

“These are real threats,” he says. “It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. We’ve had to take steps to tighten the filters till this blows over. There’s been some pretty awful stuff that’s made me uncomfortable, made my wife uncomfortable, my kids. So I told my staff: Anything at all that feels negative, just block ‘em. These people have the impression I am this horrible fascist ogre.

“When you get 4,000 responses a day from Twitter and Facebook, you don’t have an opportunity to sift through them with a fine-tooth comb to see which are legit. My instruction to staff was, ‘If you get something at all that looks like a troll, delete it.’ That’s why folks who might otherwise be legitimate news sources might have been blocked. It’s not like we’re not interested in having conversations.”

As to the issue of threats, I believe him. Legislative sessions bring out the worst in some people, and this bill takes the award for Most Likely to Cause Someone to Completely Lose Their Mind; but this was a terrible strategy, and only widened the target now planted firmly on Villalba’s back.

Not that he cares all that much.

What does Villalba have to say to his detractors? Mostly…

We’ll keep you updated on the bill’s progress.


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