New Kansas shield law could protect student journalists

KANSAS — Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson signed the Kansas House Bill2585 into law April 15, establishing a shield law that appears to affordprotection to both professional and student journalists.

“It was a great accomplishment … It’s been a long hard roadbut [we] finally got it enacted and I think it will pay dividends in thefuture,” said Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, one of the bill’ssupporters.

Shield bills like this one, which Bruce called a “pretty biglegislative accomplishment,” allow reporters to protect their confidentialsources, and protect any notes or unpublished materials unless disclosure isdeemed legally necessary.

Prior to this law, Kansas’s journalists had been granted

“limited privilege” by state court rulings.

The definition of a journalist written into the bill could include collegeand even high school journalists, Bruce said last month. The written definitionincludes “a publisher, editor, reporter or other person employed by a newspaper,magazine, news wire service, television station or radio station who gathers,receives or processes information for communication to the public,” or “anonline journal in the regular business of newsgathering and disseminating newsor information to the public.”

The language also defines “acting as a journalist” as being “engaged inactivities that are part of such journalist’s gathering, receiving or processinginformation for communication to the public.”

Last month, a conference committee made of three Kansas state senators andthree representatives agreed on the language of the bill, which then went toboth the Senate and House for votes. The Senate voted 39-1 in favor of the bill,and the House had only three dissenting votes, Richard Gannon, governmentalaffairs director for the Kansas Press Association, said last month.

Gannon said the Kansas Press Association was very pleased with what hecalled a “very fair” bill.

“There’s a lot of excitement. We’re really happy.We’ve been fighting for this for a very long time,” Gannonsaid.

Gannon also said the process of getting this bill passed increased tiesbetween the press association and the state government.

“We made additional friends up in the Statehouse. It took a lot offolks to work on this bill and I think we’ve established some goodrelationships. And that’s always positive. When you work in a legislativearena, you can never have too many friends,” he said.