KANSAS — After tabling the issue last year, the Kansas stategovernment is making an effort late this legislative session to pass a shieldbill that would protect professional and student journalists.
Senator Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said information to create the SenateSubstitute for House Bill 2585 was taken from last year’s Senate Bill 211,with “substantial amendments.” Shield laws exist in almost everystate and allow reporters to protect their confidential sources entirely, andprotect any notes or unpublished materials unless disclosure is deemed legallynecessary. Kansas has had a “common law” reporters’ privilegecreated by the courts, but not a shield statute.
The definition of a journalist currently written into the bill couldinclude college and even high school journalists, Bruce said. The writtendefinition includes “a publisher, editor, reporter or other personemployed by a newspaper, magazine, news wire service, television station orradio station who gathers, receives or processes information for communicationto the public,” or “an online journal in the regular business ofnewsgathering and disseminating news or information to the public.”
The language also defines “acting as a journalist” as being”engaged in activities that are part of such journalist’s gathering,receiving or processing information for communication to thepublic.”
In crafting this bill, Bruce said, legislators borrowed from the languageused in similar bills from other states. “We borrowed heavilyfrom different states, most specifically Colorado and Washington,” Brucesaid
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, saidthe language of the Kansas bill allows for an interpretation that protectsstudents.
“The kind of shield laws that are most protective of students arethe ones that are contingent on your function, not who signs yourpaycheck,” LoMonte said. “The Kansas one looks protective of studentjournalists because coverage depends on functioning regularly as a journalist,not on who you work for or how you’re paid.”
Richard Gannon, governmental affairs director for the Kansas PressAssociation, said he also believes the language covers student journalists, butit was not an issue that had been previously brought to his attention. He wasalso awaiting the appointment of a conference committee, and said the issue maynot be addressed in committee until early next week.
Bruce said there is more than one direction the bill could take, but itwill most likely go to a conference committee, which is “a committee madeup of three House members, three Senate members and they discuss the differencesand our version of the bill versus their version of the bill and try to come tosome sort of agreement.”
The committee would then draft a report based on the language they agreeon, which would then be brought to a vote.”The conferencecommittee will make a report and the conference committee report cannot beamended. You can’t put amendments on it when it’s on the regularfloor; it’s just a pure up and down vote. So they can either do that or ifthey agree on some sort of language … the House can just adopt our changes anddo a motion to concur. So procedurally there [are] a couple differentavenues.”
Bruce said that while there may be some “wordsmithing,” muchof the language that outlines procedures for determining journalists’
protections would likely stay the same as it is written now.This allcomes one week after a reporter at the Dodge City Daily Globe was firedfrom her job and lost a legal battle at the Kansas Supreme Court trying to fightbeing compelled to reveal a confidential source and testify in a legalproceeding.