Senate Judiciary and Labor voted unanimously Thursday to pass a two-year extension of Hawaii’s Shield Law that protects journalists from having to reveal their sources and notes in most cases.
Act 210, enacted in 2008, was set to sunset June 30.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, the Society of Profession Journalists-Hawaii Chapter, the Big Island Press Club and Common Cause Hawaii sought to have the law made permanent.
But Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee said the Senate accepted the recommendations of the Hawaii Judiciary, which wants to study the matter and report to the Hawaii Legislature in the 2012 session.
Hee said, “To me the most important things is that the bill goes forward,” adding, “This allows the Judiciary to weigh in on the rules of evidence.
But Jeff Portnoy, a attorney and expert on First Amendment issues, complained to Hee’s committee that “the only entity” that voiced opposition to the law when it was written three years ago was the state Judiciary.
“Nothing in the bill we are aware of required a report from the Judiciary, and it wasn’t until this morning we heard about not making it permanent so the Judiciary can do some study,” said Portnoy.
No one showed up to oppose the bill Thursday morning, either, when Portnoy, Hawaii SPJ’s Stirling Morita and Gerald Kato of Media Council Hawaii strongly urged passage of the bill.
But Hee raised a copy of late testimony from Judge Glenn Kim, chairman of the Hawaii Supreme Court Standing Committee on the Rules of Evidence.
Kim wrote in his testimony, “Whether or not to retain a journalists’ [sic] privilege is a question that should be addressed … “
Kim asked that the Legislature, “recognizing the principle of shared governance,” let the the Judiciary’s evidence rules committee conduct a study and report back to lawmakers in 2012.
Kim did not object to an extension for HB 1376, but he did state, “The committee observes that the drafters of evidence rules did not recommend a journalists’ privilege, and the 1980 Legislature did not adopt one. Nor do the Uniform Rules of Evidence contain such a privilege. The committee has no present information regarding the status of journalists in the other 49 states, but would undertake this kind of research if the matter were referred to it.”
That now seems likely.
Sen. Hee told reporters after the hearing that HB 1376 would not even have to go through conference committee if House Judiciary Chairman Gil Keith-Agaran accepted the date change in the bill, which is the measure’s only change.
Advocates of the bill said an extension was better than an expiration.
But Portnoy, in his oral testimony, said the original sunset date of June 30 was intended to give “any party including Judiciary a period of three years to review the effects of the bill. It was in everyone’s interest that it would be made permanent.”
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