After seeing their sponsored bills aiming to protect accident victims' privacy die in committee in both houses of the state Legislature last session, the delegates for New Jersey's 9th District are again pushing to make it a crime for emergency workers to photograph those involved in crashes.
Republican state Sen. Christopher J. Connors and Assembly members Brian E. Rumpf and DiAnne C. Gove have put the bill forward in the Senate and the Assembly, and this time hope to see it signed into law.
"We're starting earlier in the process," said Connors, "and we have about 5,000 signatures on a petition from individuals in various parts of the state who support the legislation. We'll carry that all to the committee chairs so they can understand the public support behind this bill."
The legislation was spurred by an October 2009 incident in Barnegat. Cathy Bates, a Manchester woman, was killed in a car accident on Route 72 in the township. In the minutes after the crash, a volunteer first responder took photographs of Bates and posted them to Facebook before Bates' family members knew about the accident, said the 9th district delegation in a press release.
Since then, Bates' mother, Stafford resident Lucille Bates-Wickward, has advocated for a law that would make it a crime for first responders to distribute photographs or recordings of an accident without a family's consent.
In a time when widespread use of social media means a photo or video can be posted and viewed by millions very quickly, protecting vulnerable people from exposure is necessary, said Connors.
"We obviously believe that this is a priority," said Connors, "but the fact is there are a lot of legislators that are still unaware that this is an issue."
Connors said he has sent a letter to the chair of the State Senate's Law and Public Safety Committee, pointing out the thousands of signatures of support the bill has garnered since it was first introduced. Connors is still awaiting a reply, but he said he and Rumpf and Gove aren't going to stop working to get the bill passed.
"This is high on our list of things to do," he said.