Hawaii Reporter Shield Law Extension HB622 Coming Up For Thursday, Mar. 28 Hearing?

TV-reporter_Frank-Kovalchek_CC

You know, we in the media were quick to denounce the Steven Tyler Act as a special interest protection. Oh what a terrible idea, we said: criminalizing the taking of photographs of celebrities in the islands. And now that the bill is dead, we can concentrate on our own special interest protect: HB622, which deals with the state’s Reporter Shield Law.

Right now, journalists (who write for newspapers, magazines or even blogs) have some of the strongest legal protections in the nation. But that law expires at the end of June, so HB622 started out as a way to make the law permanent. Of course, the legislative process is rarely so straightforward.

“Currently, Hawaii reporters only have to reveal their sources if there’s enough evidence that the source or protected information is critical to an investigation, a felony case or a defamation case,” Honolulu Civil Beat reported on Jan. 31. “But the bill that cleared the [House] Judiciary Committee widens the exemptions to include potential felonies or serious crimes involving injury to persons or animals. Journalists could also be compelled to produce information for any civil action—not just defamation cases.”

The bill, watered down though it was, passed the House last month. After passing the first reading in the Senate on Feb. 15, that body’s Judiciary and Labor Committee took it up on Feb. 28. And there it’s sat ever since, gathering dust.

And this has caused some measure of alarm among us in the journalism world–mostly because Democratic Senator Clayton Hee (the committee chairman) has until April 4 to schedule a debate on the measure. If he misses that deadline, HB622 dies. And if the bill dies, the whole Reporter Shield Act dies at the end of June.

But there is hope. This morning I spoke with a staffer at the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said they’re working on scheduling a hearing for the bill for a Thursday, Mar. 28 hearing.

Photo of TV news reporter: Frank Kovalchek/Wikimedia Commons