Thursday, February 18, 2016

Booking photo bill heads to Senate

Rep. Bechler
Websites or publications that use jail booking photographs for profit could face stiff fines under legislation passed today by the state House.

House Bill 132, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, passed the House by a vote of 93-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration. The bill would make it illegal to post booking photos to a web site or include them in a publication then require payment to remove the photos from public view, Watkins said.

Violators could be prosecuted in state circuit court and be required to pay damages starting at $100 a day for each separate violation along with attorney fees, he said.

Booking photos and criminal charges loaded onto a jail’s web site after an arrest are later removed when a case is adjudicated, said Watkins. By that time, however, the photos and charges may be circulating on commercial web sites or in paid publications.

“They will not remove (the information) without a fee being paid first. They usually charge around $500 to remove each photograph. If you pay it, other sites do the same thing, and sometimes the same company has several web sites,” said Watkins. “So it never ends—it’s an extortion ring.”

Watkins filed the bill after discussing the practice with a local judge and prosecutor. He said commercial use of booking photographs is recognized by the FBI as a “fast-growing problem nationally.”

Versions of the legislation filed by Watkins in past sessions would have made the practice a Class D felony. When asked by Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, why a violation wouldn’t be a felony in HB 132, Watkins said it came down to what local jailers wanted.

“To endorse and support the bill they wanted it changed to … a fine,” said Watkins. The bill has been endorsed by the Kentucky Jailers Association and the Kentucky Press Association, he said.