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Reckless-Driving Paparazzi Closer to Doing Jail Time

State senate passes bill that would require stiff fines and imprisonment for celebrity photographers who violate traffic laws

A bill imposing harsh measures against paparazzi that drive recklessly in order to get celebrity photos or images easily passed the California state senate on Friday.

Under the legislation, which passed 21-13, 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.

The bill already passed the state assembly in June, 41-12, but was amended by the senate. It now goes back to the assembly on Monday for an expected reconfirmation.

It then heads to Gov. Schwarzenegger for a signature.

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

In addition, they argue that laws already exist to crack down on dangerous driving.

“Newspaper journalists and photographers travel as quickly as possible to fires, floods, crime,” The newspaper publishers association said in a statement. “It is not inconceivable that a journalist or freelance photographer could be hailed into court and subjected to these new charges and more extreme penalties. The chilling impact of this proposed language is palpable.

Not everyone agrees. “The car chases that take place in L.A. put people in danger and have nothing to do with breaking news. They threaten the lives of celebrities and their children, as well as pedestrians,” said Sean Burke, founder of the non-profit Paparazzi Reform Initiative and one of the bill’s boosters.

The move follows an anti-stalking bill also geared at celebrity photographers that passed the state assembly earlier this summer. The paparazzi legislation was spearheaded by Assemblywoman Karen Bass and has drawn the support of such big name celebrities as Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. Yet the bill’s proponents say that the measure protects more than just highly paid actors and recording artists.

“This is not just about protecting the privileged few, these photographers disrupt the lives of thousands of people in California. Just ask folks who live in Beverly Hills or Malibu,” Burke said.