Actress Halle Berry joined Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) at the Capitol… (Chris Megerian / Los Angeles…)
SACRAMENTO -- Actress Halle Berry painted a portrait of a life under siege Tuesday as she testified in favor of legislation that would increase limits on paparazzi.
The bill, SB 606, is intended to protect children of celebrities and public officials from harassment.
Berry told a panel of lawmakers that her 5-year-old daughter is constantly afraid to leave the house for school, play dates or shopping.
"[Photographers] jump out of bushes, they jump out of cars, they come from behind buildings, who knows where they come from," she said. "They cause chaos, they cause fear."
Particularly traumatizing, she said, was an encounter at Los Angeles International Airport in April, when photographers swarmed Berry, her fiance and her daughter.
"Are they trying to kill us?" she recalled her daughter asking.
The Assembly Public Safety Committee approved the bill, which would modify the definition of harassment -- meaning activity that "seriously alarms, annoys, torments or terrorizes" a person -- to include photographing or recording a child without the permission of a legal guardian.
A first conviction could land offenders in jail for between 10 days and a year. The bill also allows civil lawsuits to be filed over alleged violations.
However, there are concerns that the measure would go too far in an attempt to prevent harassment. A legislative analysis said the bill may be "unconstitutionally vague" and criminalize activity that should be protected by the 1st Amendment.
"I stand now between Halle Berry and 1st Amendment rights to free speech and free-picture-taking," said Stan Statham, president and chief executive of the California Broadcasters Assn.
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) noted that there is already a law on the books making it illegal for paparazzi to take pictures while "falsely imprisoning" someone by surrounding them and preventing their escape.
Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), the bill's author, said he's open to tweaking the legislation but believes it will not prevent legitimate news gathering.
"Everyone has the right under the Constitution to take a picture," he told reporters "But you cross the line when you physically intimidate and harass an individual -- in this case, a child."
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