The Hawaii House has amended a bill to extend the state shield law for the next two years to keep existing source protections for journalists, including those who work for digital newspapers and free publications.
The House approved the amendment today, a reversal of its earlier position to limit the scope of the law that protects journalists from revealing their sources or notes in court proceedings.
Hawaii’s shield law, which is set to expire in June, has been criticized for its broad scope for much of the legislative session. The law protects nontraditional journalists as well as traditional news media and has few exceptions, including felony and defamation cases.
The House passed a draft of the shield law earlier this session that would restrict its scope to make journalists vulnerable to subpoenas in civil cases, potential felonies and cases involving unlawful injuries to people or animals.
The Senate has been gunning for even tighter restrictions. Sen. Clayton Hee from Kaneohe has said that he wants to end protections for “so-called journalists” and has sought to limit the shield law to ensure it no longer covers online newspapers or free publications.
Hee has criticized some of Hawaii’s online news media as “mean-spirited” and emphasized mistakes made by news media.
Hawaii news media organizations have criticized the attempts to change the law, saying that relatively little litigation over the past five years has proven the law’s effectiveness.
Jeff Portnoy, attorney for the Hawaii Shield Law Coalition, a group of Hawaii news media organizations, including The Associated Press, who support making the existing shield law permanent, praised the House’s move and said it will allow for more rational discussion.
“I want to congratulate the House for its courage and commitment to the First Amendment and to journalists of all kinds,” he said.
But he added: “It all means nothing if the Senate will not agree.”
House Majority Leader Scott Saiki introduced Tuesday’s amendment. He said the shield law “gives meaning and effect to the First Amendment.” He said journalists should be able to investigate and report the truth without fear of having to disclose their sources.
Rep. Gregg Takayama, Rep. Cynthia Thielen and Rep. Gene Ward also spoke on the floor in support of the amendment.
Because of the rules in the Legislature, the passage of the amendment means that the House won’t vote on the shield law bill until Thursday, the last day of the legislative session. The Senate must also agree to the amendment in order for the bill to pass.