Pa. bill lets students choose photographer

PENNSYLVANIA A state bill was introduced in thePennsylvania Senate on March 23 that, if it becomes law, would allow allstudents–elementary and high school–to have portraits taken by aphotographer of their choosing included in the yearbook, rather than one theschool or yearbook staff has chosen.

The bill was introduced by its sponsor,Sen. Rob Wonderling (R-Lansdale).

The bill would allow the school district toenter into a contract with a photographer but would also allow students to hiretheir own photographer, so long as their photos meet the specifications set bythe yearbook staff.

“The hiring of a photographer by a board ofdirectors shall not prohibit a [student] from engaging a photographer of the[student’s] choice nor prevent a picture taken by that photographer fromappearing in the yearbook,” according to the legislation.

John Basial,chief of staff in Sen. Wonderling’s office, said the bill is a“consumer-choice” bill and allows student yearbook photos to betaken by any photographer so long as the photo meets objective standards.

“[The bill would] let [consumers] decide who’s going supply theneeds for students and their parents,” Basial said.

Basial said thebill was inspired by a photographer who approached Sen. Wonderling and said thaton several occasions he had tried to photograph students from various schools ina school district but because of “monopoly contracts” the schoolshad with other photographers, photos he took would not be included in theyearbook.

“A monopoly contract means [one photographer] takes all thephotos–the photographer has no competition,” Basial said.“Monopolies are not good for consumers because the quality over timegenerally declines because [the photographer] simply doesn’t have tocompete for business.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. John Rafferty(R-Collegeville), Sen. Jay Costa (D-Pittsburgh), Sen. John Wozniak(D-Johnstown), Sen. Terry Punt (R-Chambersburg) and Sen. Jim Ferlo(D-Pittsburgh).

“Sen. Ferlo feels that if [students] want to make achoice [about their photographer] they should be free to do so,” said PaulSvobada, Ferlo’s legislative assistant. “As long as [students] arein the right of the law they should be able to consume as they sochoose.”

Svobada added that the legislation is not “particularlycontroversial” and believes it will pass easily because Wonderling is partof the majority party.

Sam Bidleman, president of the Pennsylvania SchoolPress Association, said the bill’s present wording and implications raiseda few concerns among association members.

Bidleman said members wereconcerned that the bill could lead to censorship by administrators because somephotos might no longer be uniform.

Additional concerns members had, Bidlemansaid, were that some larger high schools sometimes have up to 1,700underclassmen, many of whom might miss out on being in pictured in the yearbookif given the choice to retake photos.

Bidleman and other association membersrecently sent a letter to the bill’s sponsors about their concerns andadvised the senators to tighten the bill’s wording.

Casey Nichols,2004’s National Yearbook Adviser of the Year by the Journalism EducationAssociation, thought legislation regarding student yearbooks isunnecessary.

“I’m always concerned when we feel a need tolegislate decisions that have been made at the local level for decades without aproblem,” Nichols said. “The vast majority of schools are givingstudents a great many options already. [Legislation like this] makes things awhole lot more complicated and I don’t see the need forit.”

Nichols said that his school in California has one photographerfor the yearbook, which allows students to have their photos taken forfree.

Basial said the bill was sent to the Senate Education Committee onMarch 23 and he expects hearings in the near future. At the latest, Basial said,hearings could begin in September 2005.