Crime Story Tax Proposed In Georgia p. 13

By: David Noack News Organizations would pay state for publishing certain kinds of crime articles

A GEORGIA LEGISLATOR has introduced a bill to impose a tax on certain kinds of crime stories published by newspapers and other news organizations in the state. The proposed law, which has sparked a firestorm
of controversy among First Amendment and free speech advocates, is designed to raise funds to compensate crime victims.
Undertaker and Democratic state legislator chuck Sims, who sponsored the measure, maintains that if newspapers and other media organizations profit by selling sensational stories about crimes, they should also hsare some of those revenues with crime victims.
Sims' bill reads in part: ""Any individual, partnership, corporation, or other entity which produces for profit a factual account of any crime committed within the state of Georgia as to which the perpetrator or perpetrators have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment or execution shall be subject to a tax on the gross revenue derived from such production in the following amounts.""
Part of a larger ""Son of Sam"" type law, it would impose a 10% tax on the gross revenue generated by newspapers and other media for printing or airing crime stories. In addition, criminals who try to sell their stories would be taxed 100% on the profits of their proceeds. It's unclear how much the tax measure would raise.
Sims points out the law would not apply to coverage and publication or broadcasting of crime stories from arrest to trial. The tax only applies to the profits from crime stories after an individual has been convicted and sentenced to prison.
"Once they get to the point where they are convicted, the story is over, when the person goes to prison. The [media] are selling it for a profit. This bill is restoring property rights to the victim of the story,"" said Sims.
He also notes that stories about prison escapes, riots and court appeals would not be taxed and admits that the proposed legislation may have some ""problems.""
A broad range of Georgia interests appeas to agree that the law has problems. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation have blasted the bill as unconstitutional and wrong-headed.
Robin Rhodes, executive director of the Georgia Press Association, said Sims is working on revising the bill. However, she said it would be better if the measure disappeared. ""I would like for the bill to just die. It is a bd bill, "" said Rhodes.
Sims doesn't view the proposed law as a First Amendment issue but as way to restore property rights to crime victims. To that end, the bill was submitted to the House Ways and Means Committee, a tax-writing panel. It's now been moved to a subcommittee for further review.
Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said ""the Law is unconstitutional and has terrible implications. It's a direct restriction on free speech.""
Teresa Nelson, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that while the intent of the law is to help crime victims, attacking media outlets that report crime news is misdirected. ""It's taxation based on the content of one's speech, which is unconstitutional,"" she said.
Many of the state's newspapers have written editorials lambasting the proposal. The Augusta Chronicle characterized the measure as ""ridiculous"" and in direct violation of the Constitution.
Jane Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the bill reminds her of a proposal by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to charge reporters fees for being allowed to cover the O.J. Simpson trial.
Kirtley said some of the ideas floated at the time even included copyrighting trial transcripts so reporters would have to pay the county for permission to use the court documents.

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?(copyright: Editor & Publisher February 28, 1998)


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