Politics

The owners of websites that charge people to remove jail or prison mugshots could be penalized under a bill heading to the state House floor.

The Judiciary Committee approved the legislation 17-0 on Wednesday.

Websites such as mugshots.com, which publish photos obtained through open records laws from corrections facilities across the U.S., assess fees to people seeking to have their photos removed.

State Rep. Gerald Watkins, a Democrat from Paducah, said the practice amounts to extortion.

“It’s just an extortion ring, and we need some penalties to try and discourage companies from doing this and wrecking people’s careers and lives,” Watkins said.

Mugshots.com did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Booking photos are regularly published on state and local government websites. The photos are subject to open records requests. The websites regularly scrape government websites for new additions.

“People have lost jobs and have problems created for them when an employer Googles and finds this information after they’ve been hired or during the interview process,” Watkins said.

The bill would fine website owners $500 to $1,000 for each offense.

State Rep. Tom Riner, a Democrat from Louisville, suggested that the penalty be increased “substantially.”

“$500 to $1,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of money to discourage a company that’s pulling in as much money as they are,” Riner said.

Websites that don’t charge to remove the photos would not be affected.

Rep. Stan Lee, a Republican from Lexington, questioned whether the bill would allow individuals or law firms to sue on a mass-scale.

“If you wanted to bring an action for 1,000 people who have their mugshots on mugshots.com or whatever that website is, seems to me you could bring that. Or a law firm could just start filing these actions,” Lee said.

A bill that would have charged mugshots websites with criminal penalties passed out of the House in 2014 but wasn’t taken up by the Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.