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People-Halle Berry (1).jpgThe Capitol got a taste of star power on Tuesday when Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry testified in favor of a bill that would restrict paparazzi access to children.

Sen. Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, authored Senate Bill 606, which would expand the definition of harassing children to include actions like "alarming, annoying, tormenting or terrorizing conduct" as well as increase the punishment for those actions. It would make aggression from photographers and the press, as well as other attacks, illegal when directed at children.

Despite opposition from First Amendment groups, the bill passed the committee on a 5-0 vote, and will head to the Assembly Judiciary Committee next.

De León said the bill would "protect children who are particularly vulnerable to harassment because of their parents' employment." The senator said children of celebrities, law enforcement officers, and public figures are especially vulnerable to attack because of their parents' jobs.

De León said children in those families deal with hardships that a normal child should not have to understand, and that lawmakers often have a hard time understanding.

That's where Berry came in.

Berry told stories of paparazzi "besieging the school" her daughter attends, following her on trips to the market, and lying in wait at the end of her driveway. Berry said her five-year-old daughter Nahla has become so afraid of the photographers she calls "the men" that she often doesn't want to go to play dates or run errands with her mother.

"All of a sudden, a seemingly normal schoolyard with children running to and fro feels like a battleground," Berry said.

Berry said paparazzi have been physically aggressive at times. When her family flew home from a vacation in Hawaii in April, Berry said a huge group surrounded her family at the airport, and frightened her daughter to tears.

"I'm trying to teach a 5-year-old to make sense of something I'm still trying to make sense of as a 46-year-old woman," Berry said.

The actress acknowledged the rights of the media, but said her "love-hate" relationship with the press should not extend to her children.

"I understand the game, and I've come to terms with it. I'm OK with that," Berry said. "But my children are not, and they should not have to be OK with that."

The Motion Picture Association of America, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California Broadcasters Association opposed the bill because of concern that it would inhibit freedom of the press.

"Unfortunately, I stand now between Halle Berry and First Amendment rights to free speech and free picture taking," said Stan Statham, president of the California Broadcasters Association and a former Republican assemblyman.

Several Assembly members on the committee shared these concerns, but supported the bill after De León promised to add amendments that would clarify reporters' and photographers' First Amendment rights.

PHOTO: Actress Halle Berry testifies before the Assembly Committee on Public Safety for a bill that would limit the ability of paparazzi to photograph children of celebrities and public figures, on June 25, 2013 at the Capitol. The bill's author, Sen. Kevin D eLeon, D-Los Angles, is at right. AP Photo/ Steve Yeater



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