Autopsy bill faces changes but we still have exemption

House Bill 67, sponsored by Rep. James Tipton, R-Spencer County, breezed through the House several days ago with a 94-0 approval.

But when it got to the Senate Judiciary Committee, it was slowed down. The committee, composed of several lawyers, started questioning the need for the release of autopsy photos and why anyone would want to see them in the first place.

That prompted committee chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Christian County, to mention that he was considering a Senate Floor Amendment without getting into any specifics. Late Thursday night, we were able to get a copy of his amendment and it could be presented today when the Senate is in full session. The bill received its first reading Thursday afternoon. A second reading, with the amendment filed, could come today and the bill could be voted on as early as Monday.

Here’s a portion of the amendment that’s similar to original language put in the bill last year, that did not pass, and again in the 2017 session version that appears to be headed for passage:

“However, the office of the state medical examiner, a coroner, or other public official in lawful possession of an autopsy photograph, other visual image in whatever form, video recording, or audio recording shall make an autopsy photograph, other visual image in whatever form, video recording, or audio recording available to:

“(j) A person disseminating the image as part of an informative, expressive, or artistic work, whether analog or digital, that is:

  1. Part of a play, book, magazine, newspaper, audiovisual work, or cable, broadcast, or satellite television program; or
  2. Part of a work of art, including but not limited to news or commentary;

after a court with jurisdiction as provided in subsection (8)(a) of this section, in a proceeding including parties entitled to notice under subsection (8)(b) of this section, has determined that the autopsy photograph, other visual image in whatever form, video recording, or audio recording is newsworthy or pertains to a matter of public concern or public interest.”

We will continue monitoring HB67 and keep editors informed as it moves through the process.

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