A couple of weeks ago, freshman state Rep. Barry Flem-ing, R-Harlem, earned praise for passing his first bill out of the state house. An attorney by trade, Fleming pushed for changes to the agencies that investigate suspicious child deaths in Georgia.
Thought the issue isnt quite as weighty, another freshman lawmaker also has gotten a bill over a first-session hurdle. Like Fleming, state Sen. Randy Hall, R-Augusta, relied on his background as an attorney to make changes in Georgias peeping Tom laws.
Senate Bill 151, proposed by Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Danny Craig, increases the penalties for spying on people engaged in private activities, and replaces the term peeping Tom in the law with broader language.
The law is partly in response to local peepers, including a Thomson attorney who set up a voyeur operation in his lakehouse bathroom, and an Augusta man who peeked under restaurant bathroom stalls.
And then came the obvious abuse of those secret cameras that are even advertised to suggest that you can use them to spy on people who have an expectation of privacy, says Craig. Blatant voyeurism has become a bigger problem in the electronic and Internet age, and existing laws arent flexible enough to keep up.
Thats where the bills broader definition comes in: Under the current peeping Tom law, violations are based on the notion of sneaking onto someones property and peeking in their windows. SB 151 also makes it illegal to use such things as telescopes, cameras and other electronic devices to spy on a person in the interior of an area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The change fills a loophole that has made peeping prosecution difficult when the incident occurred somewhere other than the victims own property. Augustas restaurant peeper, for example - a repeat offender - was prosecuted not as a voyeur, but as a batterer because he touched some of the women, Craig says. If the pervert had only looked, locking him up would have been more difficult because the women werent on their own property.
Randys legal background allowed him to anticipate these needs, Craig says. Thats the benefit of having lawyers draft laws.
Hall, incidentally, took a little good-natured ribbing about his bill from a fellow senator who quizzed him on the origin of the term peeping Tom. Maybe we can help: According to the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, the term is derived from a man who looked out his window as Lady Godiva rode down the street naked on a horse.
The rest of that well-known tale, however, is that Godivas fabled ride (around the year 1040) was to protest high taxes. Her husband, Leofric, lord of Coventry, took her up on a bet that hed cut taxes if shed ride through town naked.
She did, and he did. Its a pretty safe bet that, with Georgias budget crisis, we wont expect such a tax-cut deal from any of our modern lawmakers wives - or husbands!
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