Arizona's 'Annoy Someone, Go to Jail' Bill in Limbo

PHOENIX, Ariz.—Despite numerous media reports stating that Arizona's H.B. 2549—the now infamous bill that, as the MSNBC headline put it, "would censor the internet"—has moved from the legislature and is sitting on Governor Jan Brewer's desk waiting for her John Hancock, such is not the case, says the Phoenix New Times.

"As we've already mentioned twice before," reported Matthew Hendley this afternoon, "the bill was never transferred to the governor, contrary to the numerous media reports saying it has. The bill was amended before it passed the Senate, meaning it was returned to the House—where it's apparently been stopped."

Internet trolls, he announced, can breathe a sigh of relief.

Maybe, maybe not. HB 2549, which sponsor Vic Williams says was drafted to address online harassment and stalking, and to protect people's privacy, contains language so sloppily written that UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who is certainly no tinfoil hat-wearing Leftie, said it would not pass constitutional muster. But the plan appears to keep it on life support, hoping for a miracle.

The bill, which would amend current statutes, levies a Class 1 misdemeanor charge against anyone convicted of the following violations:

It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use ANY ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL DEVICE and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person. It is also unlawful to otherwise disturb by repeated anonymous ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person at the place where the COMMUNICATIONS were received.

"Naturally, readers of this blog know that I am no fan of using obscene, lewd, or profane language with intent to annoy or offend people," wrote Volokh. "But, given the First Amendment, the government may not restrict such speech on blogs, e-mail discussion lists, and newspaper Web sites. If the Arizona Legislature wants to apply the [existing] ban on telephone harassment to other one-to-one devices, such as text messaging or e-mails sent directly to a recipient, it may well be free to do so. But the just-passed bill has no such limitation, and thus poses the danger of restricting a great deal of speech that is protected by the First Amendment."

The Media Coalition, a New York-based group that represents the First Amendment rights of "most of the publishers, booksellers, and librarians, recording, motion picture and video games producers, recording, video, and video game retailers in the United States," has also weighed in on the bill's weaknesses.

"H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one-to-one conversation between two specific people," the group told Governor Brewer in a written memo. "The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted. There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared. Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person."

Sponsor Williams, whose knee-jerk response to the criticism of his bill has weighted toward the defensive—said yesterday, "Not since the passage of Arizona’s tough state based illegal immigration law, S.B. 1070, have I seen such a misinterpretation of statue"—seems to have backed slightly off that position today, and has agreed to work with the Media Coalition to "see if they can help us be part of the solution."

Don't you just love it when politicians write legislation that would literally take your most basic rights away, and then, when they are called on it, respond petulantly and only then agree to work with others who may be part of the solution?

How about, instead of sticking his head even farther up his ass, Representative Williams were to respond with something like, "Gee, I was wrong. I'm sorry. We got ahead of ourselves and wrote bad law. I want to thank the good people at Media Coalition for pointing out the flaws of the bill and agreeing to help us correct our mistakes. All Arizonans will be better off for it. "

Hahaha. Just kidding. How annoying would that be?

Anyhoo, it remains to be seen whether H.B. 2549 has any life left in it, but whether it does or not, it sure is fun watching the Arizona legislature at work. If nothing else, the experience can serve as a teaching moment to remind the state's children that anyone can hold public office, literally.