Hawaii shield law likely dead as chambers differ

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

HONOLULU  — Hawaii’s shield law that protects journalists from revealing anonymous sources is likely to expire at the end of June after House and Senate lawmakers moved forward Tuesday with separate plans to extend the legislation.

The House backtracked from a plan to make the shield law permanent but tighten restrictions on the types of cases where it could be invoked and the kinds of journalists it would apply to. Instead, the chamber amended the bill to extend the current law two more years and study the issue. The House scheduled a vote on its version for Thursday, the last day of the legislative session.

The Senate ignored the House changes when it passed its version later in the day, though senators acknowledged that the House had amended its bill.

Both chambers have to pass the same version of the law in order for any extension to go through.

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 draf earlier this session that would have restricted the law’s 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.

An attorney for a group of Hawaii news media organizations, including The Associated Press, who supported making the existing shield law permanent, praised the House move before the Senate passed its version.

“It all means nothing if the Senate will not agree,” said Jeff Portnoy, attorney for the Hawaii Shield Law Coalition.

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.

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