Pa. bill lets students choose photographer

Critics say proposal to remove photographers' exclusive yearbook contracts is unnecessary

PENNSYLVANIA -- A state bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate on March 23 that, if it becomes law, would allow all students--elementary and high school--to have portraits taken by a photographer of their choosing included in the yearbook, rather than one the school or yearbook staff has chosen.

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

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

“The hiring of a photographer by a board of directors shall not prohibit a [student] from engaging a photographer of the [student’s] choice nor prevent a picture taken by that photographer from appearing 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 be taken by any photographer so long as the photo meets objective standards.

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

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

“A monopoly contract means [one photographer] takes all the photos--the photographer has no competition,” Basial said. “Monopolies are not good for consumers because the quality over time generally declines because [the photographer] simply doesn’t have to compete 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 a choice [about their photographer] they should be free to do so,” said Paul Svobada, Ferlo’s legislative assistant. “As long as [students] are in the right of the law they should be able to consume as they so choose.”

Svobada added that the legislation is not “particularly controversial” and believes it will pass easily because Wonderling is part of the majority party.

Sam Bidleman, president of the Pennsylvania School Press Association, said the bill’s present wording and implications raised a few concerns among association members.

Bidleman said members were concerned that the bill could lead to censorship by administrators because some photos might no longer be uniform.

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

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

Casey Nichols, 2004’s National Yearbook Adviser of the Year by the Journalism Education Association, thought legislation regarding student yearbooks is unnecessary.

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

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

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

Pennsylvania, reports, Spring 2005