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Celebrity moms back California anti-paparazzi bill to protect kids

Actress Jennifer Garner poses in a custom Gucci at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholso
Actress Jennifer Garner poses in a custom Gucci at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholso

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Hollywood moms Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner continued their campaign to keep paparazzi away from the children of celebrities on Tuesday, appearing at a legislative hearing in California to urge passage of a bill that would increase state penalties for harassing children.

In emotional testimony, Garner told members of a California Assembly committee that she and her children are followed wherever they go.

"How often do we see a tragedy unfold and say, 'Oh, there were so many warning signs - why didn't anybody pay attention?'" said Garner, who has three children with actor Ben Affleck. "I am asking you as a parent to pay attention."

The bill, which already has passed the state Senate, focuses on people who target children based on their parents' occupations. The idea originated with a 1990s-era law protecting children of health clinic workers from harassment by anti-abortion activists.

It would increase penalties for doing so from a maximum of six months in jail to a maximum of one year, and increase the potential fine for doing so to $10,000, from the current $1,000.

"I don't want a gang of shouting, arguing, lawbreaking photographers who camp out everywhere we are all day every day to continue traumatizing my kids," Garner told the Assembly Public Safety Committee, which voted to support the bill on Tuesday.

"What this bill would do is give us our rights back so that we can protect our children," Berry said in testimony shown on KCAL-TV in Los Angeles.

Berry had a daughter with model Gabriel Aubrey and is expecting another child with her husband, actor Olivier Martinez.

The bill has been opposed by some news organizations, who say it will restrict their news-gathering abilities.

But state Senator Kevin De Leon, the Los Angeles Democrat who sponsored the bill, said it was important to protect children from unwanted harassment and dangerous situations.

"No child, regardless of his or her parent's occupation, should be subjected to such unwarranted and harmful persecution," Leon said in a statement on his website.

"By increasing penalties and authorizing civil actions, (the bill) will have a significant deterrent effect on those who would consider tormenting the most vulnerable and defenseless members of our society," he said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bill Trott)

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