California lawmakers have OK'd a Planned Parenthood-backed bill that creates new penalties for distributing secret recordings of discussions with health providers – but civil rights and media advocates say the measure goes too far.
The bill, which passed Friday and now goes to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, targets activists such as the Center for Medical Progress -- which last year released secretly recorded videos purportedly showing activists discussing the purchase of aborted fetal body parts with Planned Parenthood representatives.
The videos, while criticized for selective editing, sparked significant outrage among Republicans who called for the organization to be defunded.
Recording and distributing a “confidential communication” without consent already is a crime under California law. However, the new bill adds an additional layer of penalties -- including additional fines and up to a year in prison -- specifically for recording a conversation with a health care provider.
Planned Parenthood supported the bill and said that in light of the videos, it had seen a nine-fold increase in violence against its facilities.
“With the Internet and the tremendous wildfire nature in which news can be spread now through social media, we need to have a crime against distribution by those in particular who did the illegal recording,” Beth Parker, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, told the Los Angeles Times.
The bill passed on a party-line vote. However, some voices often allied with Democrats were unhappy with the bill.
“We know of no legitimate governmental reason for singling-out disclosure of all health care provider communications for special criminal sanctions, making the bill vulnerable not only on First Amendment grounds but also on equal protection grounds,” the American Civil Liberties Union argued in opposition to the bill in June.
The Sacramento Bee reported that the measure initially stalled in the state Senate due to opposition from media advocates that it could prevent lawyers and journalists from doing their jobs.
However, it passed after language was added that restricted who could be prosecuted under the law -- which proponents said would prevent it being used against news organizations reporting on such videos.
“It is narrowly tailored to address the growing threat to health care providers,” Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson told the Bee.
It did not appear, though, that those changes specifically addressed the ACLU's complaints. The ACLU did not immediately respond to a request for comment from FoxNews.com on Tuesday.
Even after the amendments, The Los Angeles Times’ editorial board on Aug. 31 called the move to give health care providers special protection “mystifying” and accused the lawmakers behind the bill of pandering to special interests.
“But make no mistake, this measure would heap more criminal and civil penalties on making a secret recording — an act that’s already prohibited by state law, even when done in the public interest — simply to satisfy an interest group popular among Sacramento Democrats,” the board said.
The editorial board warned that the bill could disincentivize potential whistle-blowers from recording abuses such as a patient who sees a doctor handing out opioid prescriptions too liberally.
“The potential for unanticipated and unwelcome consequences is huge,” the board said.