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Compromise struck on Planned Parenthood-backed bill on secret recordings

A deal has been struck on a controversial bill sponsored by Planned Parenthood to create new penalties for distributing illegal recordings in the wake of high-profile secret videos circulated by anti-abortion activists.

The bill, by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Echo Park), had sought to create a new crime for distributing video or audio recordings involving a healthcare professional that were taken without a person's consent. In California, it is already illegal to make such recordings without all parties' authorization.

Planned Parenthood argued that adding additional punishment for circulating those recordings was necessary following the controversial videos taped by David Daleiden and other anti-abortion activists that purported to show Planned Parenthood employees illegally trafficking in fetal tissue. The healthcare provider, which has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing, says the videos were manipulated.

"After the video smear campaign last summer, we experienced a ninefold increase in violence against our providers and our health centers," said Beth Parker, chief legal counsel of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

"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," Parker said. "A slap on the hand of a $2,500 fine isn't sufficient."

But the proposal immediately raised alarm among civil liberties activists and press organizations, which argued such a penalty could ensnare journalists who are reporting on secret videos.

After multiple rounds of amendments, the two sides appear to have reached a compromise: The bill will now make clear that members of the media cannot be held liable if they did not participate in the initial illegal recording.

"We took precautions to make sure the press could still do their jobs," Gomez said on Tuesday.

Nikki Moore, legal counsel to the California Newspaper Publishers Assn., said with the anticipated changes — set to be put into the bill Tuesday — her group will move from opposed to neutral on the measure.

"While we find it troubling that this bill potentially criminalizes speech, we realize this bill had political momentum and our immediate concern is to protect newspapers and journalists," Moore said.

Another opponent of the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the changes.

Gomez said he wasn't surprised by the heated back-and-forth surrounding his bill, AB 1671. 

"I always knew it'd be difficult to balance the right of privacy and the right of free speech," Gomez said. "I think that is a tension that we've seen in court case after court case and law after law. And we always strive to find that right balance."

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