UPDATE: Reporter shield bill advances out of committee

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A bill seeking to protect journalists and their sources of information passed out of committee Wednesday morning Pierre.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 1074 by a unanimous vote.

Reporter Shield Laws have become common across the United States, but South Dakota has lagged behind in adopting reporter privilege as law. That from proponents who testified on behalf of the bill.

At issue is whether a reporter can be ordered by a court to reveal confidential or "privileged" communications from sources.

Prime Sponsor Representative Jon Hansen (R-Dist 25, Dell Rapids), a lawyer when not serving in the legislature, temporarily set aside his position as Judiciary Committee Chair so that he could testify on behalf of his bill.

Hansen says the bill will add journalists and newscasters to a list of professionals who are legally protected from revealing privileged sources and information. Others include lawyers, councilors and spouses.

Steve Willard, representing the South Dakota Broadcasters Association, said that his research indicated reporters in South Dakota have not faced a legal challenge to reporter’s privilege since at least 1995. HB1074 would move that informal privilege into a legally protected class.

Representatives from the South Dakota Newspaper Association also testified in support of the bill.

Tom Hart, senior legal counsel to Governor Kristi Noem also testified to the governor’s support for the bill.

No opponents’ appeared before the committee to testify. Members of the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the full House for consideration.



Should journalists and newscasters receive special protection under the law when refusing to disclose information?

The House Judiciary Committee will take up that question Wednesday in Pierre as HB1074, the so called "reporter shield law," receives its first committee hearing.

Shield Laws generally protect journalist and newscasters from being legally forced to reveal confidential sources of information or be compelled to testify in court about sources. Known as "reporter’s privilege." it’s been the standard for generations, but was never the law of the land.

The issue went mainstream in 2005 after New York Times journalist and Fox News contributor Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to reveal her sources related to the Valerie Plame/CIA affair.

South Dakota is now one of the few remaining states not to have a reporter shield law, as Governor Kristi Noem noted in her recent State of the State speech.

House Bill 1074 establishes journalists and newscasters as being, "any person who, for pay, is engaged in gathering, preparing, collecting, writing, editing, filming, taping or photographing news" for a wide variety of outlets, including student journalists.

What is not included in HB1074 is a provision for bloggers and other social media based operations not affiliated with credentialed news sources, publications, or call letter broadcast stations.

HB1074 is expected to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday in Pierre.