State Sen. Josh Becker's proposal to require police departments to find alternatives to radio encryption took another major step forward Thursday when the Senate Appropriation Committee voted to advance the bill.
The committee's 5-2 vote means that Senate Bill 1000 will now advance for a full vote by the state Senate. The bill would still need to clear the state Assembly and get the governor’s signature before it becomes law.
Becker's bill addresses a recent trend by police departments throughout California, including in Palo Alto, to encrypt their radio communications, a practice that removed the historic ability of journalists and members of the general public to monitor police activities through a police scanner.
SB 1000 would require agencies to come up with policies that would open up communications while ensuring that personal identifiable information such as Social Security numbers and criminal records remains protected. Some agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, already have such policies in place.
Though Palo Alto moved to encrypt police radio communication in January 2021, the City Council has since come out in support of the Becker bill. The legislation has also been endorsed by the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California Broadcasters Association.
According to staff from the Appropriations Committee, about 120 law enforcement agencies in California have moved to fully encrypt radio communications in response to a memo that the state Department of Justice issued in 2020. The DOJ memo required agencies to protect personal identifiable information by either switching to encryption or adopting a "hybrid" approach that would transmit the information through secure channels while keeping most other radio communication on a non-encrypted channel.
While Becker's bill had initially set a Jan. 1, 2023 deadline for establishing the new policy and reopening radio communication, SB 1000 has since been amended to give them an extra year. The bill that advanced out of committee on Thursday has a Jan. 1, 2024 deadline for compliance.
SB 1000 was one of dozens of bills to make it out of the Appropriations Committee on Thursday. Committee Chair Anthony Portantino joined Sens. Steven Bradford, Sydney Kamlager, John Laird and Bob Wieckowski to advance the bill. Sens. Patricia Bates and Brian Jones voted against it.
Becker, who saw 15 of his bills advance out of the committee, issued a statement Thursday thanking Portantino and other committee members for their support.
"I look forward to bringing my bills before all my Senate colleagues for a vote next week," Becker said.