- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - House and Senate negotiators are nearing a compromise on legislation to promote police body cameras in South Carolina, but it remains unclear whether the public will be allowed to see much of what the cameras record.

The three senators on a conference committee said Wednesday they would talk to senators about accepting the House proposal to take a year to have law enforcement, defense lawyers and others study the issue and create guidelines. The Senate proposed a six month study.

The extra time gives lawmakers a chance to find more money for body cameras, said Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York.

The committee hopes Thursday to send the bill back to the whole House and Senate to be considered at a special session.

House members told senators they would be willing to drop their language safeguarding cases where a body camera malfunctions.

The conferees did not discuss their differences over when and where body camera footage can be released to the public under the Freedom of Information act.

The House bill specifies that video recordings taken by the cameras are not public records. It allows law enforcement or prosecutors to release the video at their discretion, and allows people arrested or otherwise involved with the footage to request it.

The Senate bill would allow release of video under a Freedom of Information Act request if it involves an act that brought heightened public interest to police, is being used by law enforcement and prosecutors and could involve unlawful use of force.

Restricting the ability to allow the public to review body camera footage leaves police and prosecutors responsible for monitoring themselves, said South Carolina Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers.

The bills took on extra importance after a North Charleston police officer was charged with murder this spring in the shooting of an unarmed motorist. The shooting was captured on a bystander’s cellphone video. The bill is now named for Walter Scott, the man shot to death.

Supporters of the language said it is easier to ease restrictions on the release of the videos later than to try restoring people’s privacy once their worst moments are on YouTube.

“I had someone call me from the media and was concerned - this is all about the public’s right to know. Well, really, it is about safety and justice,” Pope said.

The House bill also requires a report on the pros and cons of the body camera law. Rep. Wendell Gilliard said that gives lawmakers a chance to reassess the proposal over the next few years.

“In the state of South Carolina, right now, we don’t have anything,” said Gilliard, D-Charleston. “We get something to the table, put in action and work on that. If we have to make improvements down the line, then I say let’s do that.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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