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Public information law could change in Texas

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Amarillo, TX - Restricting access to public information could be in the public interest, according to one state lawmaker.

Crime scene photos are technically public information, but state Senator Rodney Ellis is urging more discretion in public access.  He argues certain restrictions should be made to ensure graphic pictures aren't available to just anyone who asks.

The Texas Public Information Act allows anyone to request crime scene photos, but in reality, those requests are rarely granted.  The theory is a potential juror could see some photographic evidence that might sway their opinion.

But Randall County District Attorney James Farren says in his years in the courtroom, he has never seen that happen, saying, "It occurs to me that either a pro-defense juror or a pro-state juror - either one might be the one who decides they were affected, so it seems to me that it would affect the prosecution and defense about the same, which is basically nil."

The Main intent of Senate Bill 1215 is to limit access to crime scene photos to family, attorneys, accredited journalists, universities, and documentary filmmakers.  Ellis argues that allowing widespread access could easily lead to sensitive information in too many hands.

Dr. Leigh Browning, a mass communications professor at West Texas A&M University, says social media has tremendous influence on the first amendment, saying, "Because of social media and the explosion of bloggers and citizen journalists, now if we grant access to huge networks and reputable news organizations, we also have to grant access to those people that have maybe not yet earned our trust, who have not established themselves as bona fide journalists."

Critics say this kind of legislation is unnecessary, as access is already limited - the Texas Attorney General's Office grants less than twenty photographic evidence requests a year.  The bill was left pending in the Texas House with two weeks left in this legislative session.

If you'd like to learn more about the bill or the arguments for and against it, follow the links attached to this story.

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