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Texas law criminalizing upskirt photos takes immediate effect

Local victim helps push new improper photography law

SAN ANTONIO – A new state law that makes it illegal to capture images of a person's private areas without their consent is now in effect after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation last week.

For Halie Powell, of New Braunfels, it was a dream realized.

"I was told, ‘No, we can't make this a law,' and ‘no, its somebody's freedom of speech,'" Powell said. "I was just told no over and over again."

In May 2014, Powell was looking at merchandise at the Shops at La Cantera when she felt a man's hand under her skirt.

"He took over a 10-second video of me, which just absolutely disgusted me," she said.

The man, who was armed with the cellphone camera, was dressed as a woman wearing a wig.

Powell chased after the man and fellow shoppers helped tackle him until police arrived, all of which a bystander recorded using another cellphone camera.

But the man taken into custody did not face charges because the state law banning improper photography at the time was deemed unconstitutional when a judge ruled the law was written too broadly.

"Our government told him that it was OK that he took these videos home. It was OK for him to take these pictures home, and that wasn't right," Powell said.

The previous law also stipulated that the banned images needed to be taken for sexual gratification.

State Bill 1317, authored by state Sen. Jose Menendez, D-Dist. 26, excluded the portion of the previous bill that attempted to define that state of mind.

"We've eliminated that and therefore we believe that this law will be constitutional," said Menendez.

SB 1317 was one of four bills filed this legislative session that aimed to ban improper photography -- commonly referred to as "upskirt photos."

Menendez's legislation was the only bill that progressed to become law.

"A reasonable society says that your rights to take photographs and video end where your or someone else's privacy begins," said Menendez.

Critics of the new law are already planning to challenge its constitutionality.

But for Powell, the new law is victory for future victims.

"I don't think people are going to stop doing what they're doing," said Powell. "So now when they continue to do it, its illegal. It was absolutely worth every second and every ‘no.'"


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