Illinois lawmakers have yet another chance to fix a state law that makes it a crime to record police without their permission while they are in the line of duty.|
In the wake of the 45-59 House vote that killed HB3944 last month, its sponsor, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Des Plaines, has a new bill to right an egregious wrong which violates the constitutional rights of Illinoisans and makes felons of otherwise law-abiding citizens. (Illinois law allows videotaping in public places, but restricts audio recording without permission.)
Rep. Nekritz said SB1808 aims to address complaints by police organizations worried that such audio recording of law enforcement in action could be altered to make it appear police were involved in wrongdoing when they were not. Even though the law already offers remedies for those intentionally tampering with such recordings, the new bill specifically directs suspect audio recordings to the state's attorney for review. We hope that is enough to sway recalcitrant House members to do the right thing. We also hope that it mutes resistance from law enforcement lobbyists who, in backing this attack on civilian rights, do little to enhance the good reputation of law enforcement they are working so hard to protect.
Until recently, few Illinoisans were even aware of the existence of such a law so seldom was it applied. But a number of high-profile cases out of Chicago brought use and abuse of the measure to light. For example, a disgusted jury acquitted a Chicago woman on charges she violated the law because she recorded Chicago police officers attempting to persuade her to drop sexual harassment charges against one of their colleagues.
Sadly, as the profile of the law was raised, so was its use elsewhere in the state, including here in the Quad-Cities.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have opposed the bill and at least one state court has found it unconstitutional. Some law enforcement officials and prosecutors continue to wield the law, even as others, oppose it. For example, Garry McCarthy, Chicago's new police superintendent has argued that rather than being harmful, such recordings benefit officers who are falsely charged with misconduct.
A number of lawmakers agree, including state Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova. He cosponsored HB3944 and has asked to be added as a cosponsor of SB1808.
"As a freedom-loving citizen, I have serious concerns about the propriety and constitutionality regarding much of the Illinois anti-eavesdropping law," he said. So did Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, who voted to back HB3944 which would restore to Illinoisans a First Amendment right afforded to citizens in almost every other state in the nation.
Exploding technology puts more of us at risk. Rep. Nekritz said, "The ubiquitous cell phone now puts everyone at risk of being a felon."
The Illinois Press Association is one of the groups backing her bill. "There are already nine exemptions to the Eavesdropping Act that allow officers to record citizens without a warrant," said Josh Sharp, IPA's government relations director. "The score today is Police – 9, Citizens – 0."
He also notes that the near-bankrupt state can't afford the lawsuits that would likely arise if Illinois prosecutors continue to apply the unconstitutional law. Boston, Mass., one of only three states which have such laws on the books, is already being sued over its laws. Such suits tend to multiply.
Please join us in urging the General Assembly to repeal the law to protect our First Amendment rights, to help expose police behaving badly AND to ensure that good cops are not harmed by officers who choose to operate outside the law.
Moline, IL Details
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