MN House panel considers court camera ban

Minnesota’s experimentation with cameras in courtrooms would come to a halt under legislation on the move at the state Capitol.

The House Public Safety and Security Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the bill (HF 3436) and kept it in play for further action later this session.

The bill would prohibit court officials from using state funds to expand audio and video coverage of criminal court proceedings. Such coverage has been recently allowed in very limited circumstances under a pilot program.

Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, is the chief sponsor of the bipartisan bill. Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, is a co-sponsor.

During the committee hearing, Knoblach warned that cameras could hinder cooperation.

“If reporting a crime means the world can watch a report on the 10:00  news or see it forever on YouTube or elsewhere, some victims and witnesses will decide it’s just not worth it,” Knoblach said.

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Caroline Palmer of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault echoed the concern.

“Victims may be less likely than ever to report the crime,” Palmer said

Mark Anfinson, a lawyer for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, spoke against the bill. Anfinson argued that there is no evidence to back up the claims of bill supporters.

“The pilot projects have shown that cameras cause absolutely no discernible problems for anybody in Minnesota courts, none,” Anfinson said.

Another bill opponent raised constitutional concerns.

Sonia Miller-Van Oort, president of the Minnesota State Bar Association, told lawmakers that her organization supports the concept of the bill but opposes it on separation-of-powers grounds.

“What the legislation seems to be suggesting is that it would be appropriate for the Legislature to dictate to the separate branch of the Judiciary how it should conduct its business,” Miller-Van Ooert said. “It’s in that way that we have a concern.”