Broad Kan. shield bill passes House, Senate

KANSAS — House Bill 2585 passedthrough the Kansas State Senate and House of Representatives this week, settingthe stage for a shield law to protect professional and student journalists.

The bill, which will allow reporters to protect their confidentialsources, and protect any notes or unpublished materials unless disclosure isdeemed legally necessary, will now go to Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson for asignature. The governor is expected to sign the bill in about a month, saidRichard Gannon, governmental affairs for the Kansas Press Association.

“We’re really pleased…this has been a fight for years andwe’ve never been able to get it out of committee and it just so happensthis year the stars were right,” Gannon said.

Student Press Law Center Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein said thislegislation makes Kansas a front-runner in protecting student journalists.

“This legislation seems to adopt a functional view of journalism,which would protect all kinds of non-traditional news gatherers, includingstudent journalists and bloggers. And that actually puts Kansas pretty much outfront in protecting student journalists,” Goldstein said.

A conference committee, made of three state senators and threerepresentatives agreed on the language of the bill, which then went to both theSenate and House for votes. The Senate voted 39-1 in favor of the bill, and theHouse had only three dissenting votes, Gannon said.

The final language includes in its protections “an online journal inthe regular business of newsgathering and disseminating news or information tothe public.” This part of the definition was somewhat controversial,Gannon said, and was not included in the original Senate Bill 211 from whichHouse Bill 2585 was built.

The language of the final bill also changed a portion that defined whenjournalists must turn over information. Originally, the bill said informationmust be disclosed when the information “could not, after exercising duediligence, be obtained by alternative means,” but now reads that it mustbe disclosed if the information “could not, after a showing of reasonableeffort, be obtained by readily available alternative means,” Gannonsaid.

Kansas courts had previously ruled that journalists had a “limitedprivilege” under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but the newlaw will clarify and strengthen that protection against forced disclosure.

“Naturally representing the newspapers we’d like to have hadmore, but I think we’ve got a pretty good piece of legislation,”Gannon said.