Raleigh, N.C. — A state House committee Tuesday significantly altered a proposed law that would have shielded misdemeanor arrest photos from public release, opting to study the issue further.
The move came as the House Regulatory Reform Committee gutted a broad measure to overhaul state and local regulations, splitting it into two bills that shed provisions facing resistance from Republican legislators.
The rewritten provision in Senate Bill 734 would require the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Department of Public Safety to study whether mug shots should be public record. Officials would report back to the General Assembly before Dec. 31.
It replaces an effort by Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, to exempt all mug shots in misdemeanor cases from publication until the accused is convicted.
Moffitt was unavailable for comment Tuesday. But in a written statement last week, he said the practice of publishing mug shots amounts to "cynical exploitation."
"Publishing pictures for all the world to see of people arrested for charges that may not be sustained just serves no public purpose," he said in the statement. "It’s not journalism and it's not fair – it’s sensationalism to drive web traffic that plays to the worst part of our natures."
The committee approved the rewritten version at its meeting Tuesday, and it now heads to the House floor. Two competing measures – one in the Senate and another stuck in a House committee – attempt to curb mug shot publishers who charge for the removal of the images.
Other states have passed similar laws.
But those who watch the mug shot publishing industry closely say they have little confidence these laws will have much of an impact on the intended targets, which have learned to adapt both to changing state laws and intervention from the search engines that make them popular.