Legislation sponsored by 9th District Legislators Senator Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove that would make it a crime of the fourth degree for any first responder who takes one or more photographs or electronic images, or makes a video recording of an accident victim without prior written consent was passed by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
Senator Connors is the prime sponsor of the legislation (S-199) in the Senate, while Assemblyman Rumpf and Assemblywoman Gove have joined as cosponsors on the companion bill (A-789).
Senator Chris Connors testifying in support of S-199 before the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee on February 16, 2012.
On October 23, 2009, Ms. Cathy Bates was killed in an automobile accident on Route 72 in Barnegat Township. At the scene of the accident, a volunteer first responder took photos of her which were posted on Facebook before family members were notified of what took place. Since the incident, Cathy’s mother, Lucille Bates-Wickward, has led the effort to amend State law to prohibit first responders from distributing photos or recordings of an accident victim without the victim or family”s permission.
The Delegation issued the following statement following the Committee’s supportive action:
“The incident which promoted the introduction of this legislation was the exception as opposed to the general rule, as the overwhelming majority of first responders would never violate the privacy of accident victims or act in such an unprofessional manner. Not surprisingly, many first responders we have spoken with on this issue were incensed and offended by what took place in the case of Mrs. Bates-Wickward and her family.
“What is important to consider is that in this day of social media, whereby information can be sent almost instantaneously for millions around the world to see, this legislation would update the State law to keep pace with technology in protecting the privacy rights of victims and their families. To simply do nothing, would potentially allow another grief-stricken family to endure the unimaginable hardships felt by Mrs. Bates-Wickward and her family in the course of losing a loved one.
“To address concerns raised by first responders, the legislation would permit images and footage of accident victims and the incident to be used for first responder training or any other purpose, but only if consent is given by the accident victim or their family members. While we surmise that most victims’ families would likely want to accommodate requests made by first responder units, it nevertheless should be a decision left to these individuals on whether photos or video footage can ultimately be used or not.
“To date, more than 5,000 persons have signed petitions in support of the legislation to protect the privacy rights of victims and their families. To give these individuals a stronger voice in the legislative process, all petitions received by our office have been forwarded to the State House for entry into the official public record of testimony.”