Jason Villalba

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

One Texas legislator is aiming to limit citizens’ ability to record police officers from close distances, but the bill has generated significant opposition.

Thursday, Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) postponed a public hearing on his bill, HB 2918, which would make it illegal for citizens to record police officers from closer than a 15-foot distance. People openly carrying firearms would be required to stay at least 25 feet away from an officer to record, Villalba said.

Villalba said he did not intend to restrict the rights of citizens with his bill.

“We didn’t set out to do that,” Villalba said. “What we set out to do is create a balance between the officers’ safety and security and the ability for people to keep law enforcement accountable.”

The Austin Police Department supports mandating space between officers and people with recording devices, according to Jason Dusterhoft, APD support bureau assistant chief.

“We are very ‘pro’ people video taping officers,” Dusterhoft said. “It helps us be held accountable. We think it helps citizens see things, but we just want it to be done in a safe manner.”

Antonio Buehler, founder of the Peaceful Streets Project, which works to limit street violence from police officers, said he believes the bill limits citizens’ freedom, and especially impacts those who do not have other means of holding law enforcers accountable.

“[The bill] would take away the one tool they have to try and hold the police accountable,” Buehler said. “Because these people aren’t necessarily able to use the political system, they don’t have support in the courts and in regard to public opinion.”

According to Buehler, it is not always possible to capture detailed recordings from 15 feet away in certain real-life scenarios.

“If you’re in a crowded area where there’s a lot of noise, being 15 feet away may be too far,” Buehler said. “People may be walking in between you. You may not be able to get audio. If it’s dark out, you may not be able to good visual representation of what’s happening.”

Villalba said modern technology means recording devices are able to capture clear audio and visual information, even from a distance. 

The bill makes exceptions to the law for members of the media. Media outlets that have the “direct or indirect objective to disrupt or agitate a peace officer during the officer’s performance of duties” would still be restricted by the law.

“Personally in the age that we live in, the digital age, everyone has the ability and, I think, the right to consider themselves a journalist of some sort,” Michael Johnston, government senior and volunteer with the Peaceful Streets Project, said.

Johnston said there is a common misconception that people recording officers are trying to make an officer’s job more difficult when, in reality, they are trying to monitor police interactions and watch for the safety of officers and civilians. 

“When you introduce more discretion into a police officer’s role in interacting with citizens, you end up creating a mentality of duty of us versus them,” Johnston said. “That police are on one side, and citizens are on another, and there should be some defined separation, in this case 15 feet or 25 feet.”

Vaccination exemptions should be rescinded

Marty Qureshi of the University Health Center holds up a vial of the Meningitis vaccine. The Texas Legislature recently passed a law requiring all students to be vaccinated against meningitis, not just those living on campus.
Marty Qureshi of the University Health Center holds up a vial of the Meningitis vaccine. The Texas Legislature recently passed a law requiring all students to be vaccinated against meningitis, not just those living on campus.

Despite the numerous coincidences, the year is not 1960. Politicians in Alabama are posturing any way they can to stand in the courthouse door, Harper Lee is writing again and — most importantly — deadly diseases such as the measles are on the rebound.

For the past few weeks, the all-but-eradicated but easily preventable virus has had a resurgence in the United States. The Washington Post reported Monday that a total of 119 people have been affected in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Many of those affected have been infants and toddlers who are too young to receive immunizations. The outbreak is thought to have originated in Southern California, specifically among the children of parents philosophically opposed to vaccinations. These objections can stem from religious dogma — the sect of Christian Science, for example, is opposed to vaccines as well as modern medicine — but usually are a result of a totally imaginary belief that vaccines can have harmful effects on their recipients.

While Texas has thankfully not hosted any transmission of the virus, the number of students unvaccinated is startlingly high. The Austin American-Statesman noted recently that more than 48 percent of the students at the Austin Waldorf School are unvaccinated. The Texan examined the issue as well and found that, among University students, only international students must prove vaccination histories.

Thankfully, some government officials are beginning to take note and offer common sense solutions. State Representative Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, recently proposed a bill that would rescind both religious and philosophical opt-outs for vaccines when it comes to public school students. Only two other states, Mississippi and West Virginia, currently have laws that tough.

Personal choice and parental rights over their children are compelling sound bites, but the issue of vaccinations is somewhat unique. In addition to putting one's children in harm's way, parents who believe in the quackery of the anti-vaccination movement put others' children at risk. Very young children and individuals with autoimmune disorders often cannot be safely vaccinated, thus their well-being relies upon herd immunity from an otherwise covered population.

Villalba is right to bring action toward this very real public health issue. Hopefully, reasonable Texans will come down on his side and not on the side of anti-science charlatans.

Horwitz is the Senior Associate Editor.

Representatives of the state legislature discuss the future of Texas at the LBJ Library Wednesday evening. The parties discussed the issues facing the legislature in the 83rd session and answered questions from the audience and a reception followed.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

The issue of public education policy dominated the conversation Wednesday evening at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library where a panel of four members of the Texas Legislature addressed prominent issues facing Texas.  

Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, was the first to spark the debate of public education when the moderator, Brian Sweany, senior executive editor at Texas Monthly, inquired about how she felt in her first session as a representative.

“I think what surprised me is that we haven’t addressed public school finance,” Gonzalez said. “We have asked the governor to make it an emergency item.”

Both Gonzalez and Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, addressed their concern about the dramatic cuts from public education during the previous session. 

“I agree there needs to be a complete overhaul on education,” Gonzalez said. “We need to bring technology into the classroom and a curriculum that engages students.”

While Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, admitted that he was for restoring some of the cuts, he also said that money and government is not the answer, placing emphasis on a comprehensive reform.

“What I’m saying is we need to focus more on alternatives rather than solely looking into money.”

After Gonzalez visited high schools in the El Paso district and informed them of the $5.4 billion cut, she said she could see the look of awe in their faces.

“Why would they want to engage in a system that they feel has let them down?” Gonzalez asked. 

Audience members were also part of the discussion. Joanne Richards, former assistant dean of the College of Pharmacy, said students have different interests, motivations and excitements.

“So the question becomes how do you provide excitement and curiosity and teach them things they don’t want to learn?” Richards said.

Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, also sat on the panel. Texas Monthly and the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs hosted the event. 

All four representatives said there was a change in tone from last Legislation when Sweany asked about partisanship. Strama and Villalba said legislators started a new tradition of wearing purple on Thursdays, as a symbol of harmony.

“My good friend Ron Simmons came up with the idea,” Villalba said. “There was a desire to come together and we all want to make this state stronger and better.”