House Majority Leader Scott Saiki has introduced a measure to bring back certain protections for journalists in Hawaii.

The Legislature couldn’t agree in 2013 on what to do with the state’s Shield Law so it expired that summer.

House Bill 17, which passed first reading Thursday, would create a permanent news media privilege protecting journalists from having to disclose their sources or unpublished information to anyone who can compel testimony — legislative, executive, judicial or otherwise.

Scott Saiki

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki, pictured here at center with House Speaker Joe Souki, left, and Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads, has introduced a bill to protect journalists from being forced to disclose their sources.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The legislation is in line with the recommendations of the Supreme Court’s Standing Committee on the Rules of Evidence that were issued in 2011.

The protections would apply to any “journalist or newscaster presently or previously employed by or otherwise professionally associated with any newspaper or magazine or any digital version thereof operated by the same organization, news agency, press association, wire service, or radio or television transmission station or network.”

There are special exceptions allowing the privilege to be used by others who can demonstrate that what they’re doing is materially similar to that of more traditional journalists or even if what they’re doing simply serves the public interest.

Police, prosecutors and other law enforcement would have to exhaust all other avenues before trying to argue that they just absolutely need the information, a recourse the bill does provide for.

Saiki was one of only a handful of lawmakers who spoke up and fought to preserve the Shield Law in 2013, arguing that it is important for journalists to be able to do their job without fear.

But the Hawaii Attorney General’s office, led by David Louie at the time, fought the bill and with the help of Sen. Clayton Hee, who chaired the Judiciary Committee, successfully killed it.

Heading into the 2015 session there’s a new Senate Judiciary chair, Gil Keith-Agaran, and Doug Chin is the new AG, appointed last week by Gov. David Ige.

Keith-Agaran has introduced a bill, along with Sens. Kalani English, Maile Shimabukuro and Glenn Wakai, that would require agencies to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance of all government records under its control that are required to be made available for public inspection.

Senate Bill 140, which is set to be heard Tuesday, is in response to a Hawaii Supreme Court decision in November that said a government agency doesn’t have to maintain public records in any certain way because there’s no law that says they have to.

The 2015 legislative session kicked off Wednesday. Hundreds of bills have been introduced and are beginning the process of being referred to committees for hearings.

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