California to Reckless Paparazzi — Go to Jail

The Assembly overwhelmingly approved legislation imposing harsh penalties on photographers who drive dangerously

The California Assembly overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday that will impose harsh penalties on paparazzi who drive recklessly to get pictures of celebrities.

Under the legislation, photographers who break traffic laws or interfere with the operation of a celebrity’s car can receive a maximum $5,000 fine — and one year imprisonment.

Tuesday is the 13th anniversary of the 1997 death of Princess Diana, which was widely attributed to a high speed chase between a car ferrying the princess and photographers.

The bill originated in and passed the Assembly in June, then was modified by the Senate. It passed Tuesday's Assembly reconfirmation vote 43-13.

It now heads to Gov. Schwarzenegger for a signature. Boosters of the bill speculated that the governor would sign the act into law, noting that he and his wife were themselves driven off the road by paparazzi in 1997.

Various media organizations and the California Newspaper Publishers Association have protested the bill, saying that it criminalizes normal news-gathering practices.

"We don't deny there’s a big problem, we just think that this particular bill is overly inclusive," Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, told TheWrap. "I don't represent paparazzi, I represent photojournalists and these folks drive cars. Under this law though, if you harbor an intent to capture an image then it appears to us you could be subjected to enhanced criminal prosecution."

But the bill's proponents, who included Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, argue that the tougher measures protected not just celebrities but their children and anyone caught in the crossfire during high-speed chases.

"We feel this new law will improve public safety in general and hopefully prevent anyone else from getting hurt,” Sean Burke, founder and CEO of the Paparazzi Reform Initiative, said in a statement.

California first passed anti-paparazzi legislation in 1998, a year after Diana's death. The legislature amended that law in 2005 and again in 2009.

Tuesday's vote occurs on the anniversary of Princess Diana's death.