Senate OKs bill inspired by BART phone shutdown

A bill inspired by BART’s shutdown of cell-phone service during public protests in 2011 has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

The state Senate on Friday concurred in amendments to SB 380 by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, which says agencies could only interrupt cell service when directed by a court order based on probable cause.

no signalBART turned off electricity to cellular towers in four San Francisco stations for three hours during an August 2011 protest about a BART Police officer’s fatal shooting of a knife-wielding homeless man.

The incident led the Federal Communications Commission to probe wireless service shutdowns, bringing public comments that indicated such shutdowns create more problems then they solve because they impede emergency communications. BART later in 2011 adopted a new standard for when it could interrupt phone service; Padilla’s bill, if it becomes law, would pre-empt that policy.

“The tragic events in Boston earlier this year remind us of the vital importance of wireless service to first responders, victims, and families during emergencies,” Padilla said in a news release Friday.

“For decades, California law has required a court order to interrupt or shutdown traditional telephone service,” he said. “SB 380 would extend these protections to the modern mobile communications network which is critical to public safety and a key element of a free and open society.”

Gov. Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, saying that giving law enforcement agencies only six hours to make findings about service shutdowns “could divert attention away from resolving the conflict without further threat to public safety.”

Padilla’s current bill differs from last year’s by making carve-outs for hostage and barricade situations, and by adding process for a shutdown in certain emergencies so long as it’s followed by court review to determine whether free speech and public safety standards were met.

The state Senate passed this bill 35-3 in May; the Assembly passed it 77-0 on Wednesday; and a roll call is not yet available for Friday’s Senate concurrence vote.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Padilla has a lot of nerve. When did Occupy ever step foot in Van Nuys?