It’s proof that public pressure works.

After weeks under fire, Texas state representative Jason Villalba (R-114) has pulled his controversial “cop watcher” bill. As it was originally filed, the bill would have placed limits on how citizen journalists are allowed to document police activity. However, soon after the bill was referred to committee and reactions from activists escalated, Villalba indicated that he was open to substantially changing the language in the bill to clarify how the average citizen’s First Amendment rights would be affected should it become law.

Not good enough, said the people of Texas. And so Villalba has pulled the bill. The move is being praised by some law enforcement associations, but others, like the Dallas Police Association, are standing by their reasoning for proposing the bill to begin with.

From the Dallas Morning News:

Charley Wilkison, executive director of CLEAT [Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas], called Villalba a “friend of law enforcement” whose bill was well-intended.

“He’s a young, talented legislator, and there’s no hard feelings on this end,” Wilkison said. “It’s just not needed.”

Villalba said the bill was initially proposed by the Dallas Police Association and the Texas Municipal Police Association.

“We thought when we wrote our bill that we were making it safe not only for the police officers by that [25-foot] buffer zone, but also for those individuals that are seeking to keep law enforcement accountable to give them a safe zone to film,” Villalba said.

Frederick Frazier, first vice president of the Dallas Police Association, said a rash of incidents involving police officers antagonized on the job prompted the bill. They were dangerous situations, “almost like a setup to try to get officers to do something stupid,” he said.

“Ultimately the officer is … going to be disciplined, ridiculed on social media and possibly killed,” Frazier said.

Quick note: Villalba has specifically said that the pulling of the bill had nothing to do with the recent shooting of Walter Scott by South Carolina police officer Michael Slager:

Discarding the bill, Villalba said, was not the result of public outcry over the fatal shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man whose killing by a South Carolina police officer, Michael T. Slager, was captured on video by a passer-by. But Villalba didn’t think his bill would have prevented the passer-by from capturing the event.

“If you look at that camera shot, he’s over 50 feet away behind a fence,” he said. “Under our bill, he could have actually gotten closer.”

But regardless of timing, the concept, Villalba said, is not likely to find success now or in the future.

“I think the public has spoken very loudly.”

So, there you have it. The public spoke, and after coming under heavy fire, Villalba listened and relented. I still stand by my original analysis of how the application of the criminal negligence standard mitigates a lot of the concerns raised about this bill, but I also believe that it’s a good thing that Villalba chose to pull the curtain on his legislative sideshow.

Maintaining police safety is a genuine concern—but so is maintaining the First Amendment. If you’re going to write a bill that attempts to do both, it’s best to do it right the first time.


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