Kansas lawmakers pass bills on police body cams, stalking by drones, SLAPP suits

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate on Friday passed and sent to Gov. Sam Brownback two bills that reflect how the law often trails behind technology.

Senate Bill 22 would classify audio and video from police body and dashboard cameras as “criminal investigation documents” and thus exempt them from mandatory disclosure under the Kansas Open Records Act. The end result is that police departments won’t be required to release video from body cameras or dash cameras to the media.

Body and dashboard cameras have become a growing trend in law enforcement. While some oppose their use, many law enforcement agencies support their use, believing they can exonerate officers from false claims of police brutality.

Under the bill, individuals who are involved in an incident captured on such video, their parents, guardians and attorneys, would be entitled to access the audio or video, although agencies would be allowed to charge a reasonable fee for such access.

Lawmakers also passed a final version of a bill to prohibit stalking someone by use of unmanned aerial systems, or drones.

Kansas has long had a “protection from stalking” law that allows victims to seek a restraining order to prevent someone from “intentional harassment of another person that places the other person in reasonable fear for that person’s safety.”

Senate Bill 319 includes a provision that adds the use of drones to the definition of harassment.

That same bill also enacts a new law called the Public Speech Protection Act. It would allow a defendant in a civil defamation suit to ask the court to strike such a claim if he or she can show that the claim represents an infringement of that person’s free speech rights.

That part of the bill is meant to prevent what are called “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPP suits. Those are suits in which individuals or businesses try to censor, intimidate or silence critics — such as people who write negative reviews at online sites such as Yelp — by burdening those critics with high litigation costs until they abandon their criticism.

Both bills passed both chambers unanimously, 119-0 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate.