Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) recently attracted significant criticism, reportedly even from members of his own political party, due to his introduction of a controversial bill that would create a 25-foot buffer zone between police activity and individuals wishing to film it.
Villalba’s House Bill 2918, if passed, would make filming police activity from less than 25 feet away a crime punishable by prison and/or fines if the person conducting the recording is not a member of FCC-licensed media or an approved newspaper or magazine. HB 2918 would also create a larger 100-foot buffer zone for individuals recording while carrying a handgun.
Breitbart noted that numerous Twitter users said that they were being blocked by Villalba for criticizing his bill or asking questions about it. Among those allegedly blocked was journalism student Kate Rhoads, who was covering HB 2918 and wanted a statement from Villalba. Rhoads was blocked by Villalba after asking “If Title 8, Ch. 38 of the TX Penal Code already makes it illegal to impede police activity, why is HB 2918 needed?” Villalba later unblocked Rhoads and said he would grant her an interview after the public committee hearing on the bill scheduled for Thursday, March 26th.
In response to the complaints from Twitter about the congressman blocking criticism, Rep. Villalba told The Dallas Morning News that “my instruction to staff was, ‘If you get something at all that looks like a troll, delete it.’ That’s why folks who might otherwise be legitimate news sources might have been blocked.” He told the paper that he believes social media is not a good place to debate legislation “because the mooment (sic) you try to explain yourself the trolls come out.”
Villalba or his staff also deleted his own heated Twitter post that stated:
“To anyone who doesn’t like HB 2918- Deal with it. I stand with cops who keep my family safe. If you don’t like it- vote me out of office.”
Villalba refused to withdraw HB 2918, but told WFFA that he would reduce the buffer zone to 15 feet around police required for everyone, including the media. “All we’re saying is provide what we call a halo. Give them a little room. We’re not saying don’t film. We’re not saying stop. We’re saying just step back a little bit,” Villalba told WFFA’s Inside Texas Politics over the weekend, also noting that he has received “significant death threats” since introducing the bill. He said that due to the death threats he pulled his Texans For Jason Villalba Facebook page.
WFFA reported that Villalba said police had proposed the buffer zone idea to him.
Villalba maintains his position that HB 2918 was created to “ensure that citizens have the right to keep our law enforcement accountable but also provide a level of safety for our police officers that doesn’t currently exist.” Villalba told The Houston Chronicle that HB 2918 will allow police to work without having to take the “interim step” of pushing back obstructive citizens who are filming the activity.