SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The lawmaker behind Tuesday's House approval of a measure allowing people to audio record on-duty police officers says the proposal "modernizes" state law in an age when most people would find it ludicrous that they could go to prison for pulling out their smartphones and taping what they hear on the street.
The 71-45 vote to alter Illinois' eavesdropping law, one of the nation's strictest, came after Rep. Elaine Nekritz appeased police concerns that audio recordings could be altered and abused. An earlier vote in the House failed.
The Illinois law prohibits public audio recordings without the consent of everyone involved, and unauthorized recording is a felony that could carry a 15-year prison sentence. Court action this spring called the law unconstitutional, and massive Chicago street protests during this past weekend's NATO summit prompted officials to publicly preclude enforcement of it.
"We all saw coverage of the NATO summit, with crowds and police lines and cellphones held up to record what's going on. No one would think that's a felony," said Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and sponsor of the legislation. "It's time we modernize our laws to conform with what people expect today."
The measure now goes back to the Senate.
Videotaping is already OK. The proposal would allow audio recording of police performing their duties in a public place.
Nekritz tried to get House approval in March and managed only 45 votes, 15 short of approval. The main complaint was from police organizations that feared altered recordings could become false evidence against officers in court or administrative police proceedings.
Nekritz added language that requires suspected evidence tampering to be referred to a prosecutor for criminal action. The change appeased most law-and-order House Republicans, who ultimately bowed to the ubiquity of sophisticated, hand-held technology and instant communication.
"You can't have a rule that says people can't pull out their cellphone camera and, from a safe distance, audio-record," said Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, a former prosecutor.
But the adversarial conditions that can accompany interactions between citizens and police still caused discomfort for some because the legislation allows recording a conversation that is readily audible. That means at close range, said Rep. Dena Carli, D-Chicago.
Videotaping can be from a distance, "but for me to get that audio, I have to come into close proximity, and that's a danger to the officer and to the person doing the recording," Carli said.
Another eavesdropping-related measure was approved Tuesday by the Senate, 42-14, and is now on its way to the governor. The legislation would let police record suspects in certain situations with approval from a state's attorney, sparing them a trip to a judge for a court-approved warrant. Supporters say it would help police supervisors ensure an undercover officer's safety when involved in a drug sting or other dangerous operation.
Associated Press writer Christopher Wills contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press