Legislation allowing journalists and newscasters in South Dakota to keep confidential the identities of their sources of information won approval Monday in the state House of Representatives.
Representatives voted 47-20 in favor. The Senate takes up HB 1074 next.
Governor Kristi Noem called for the shield law during her campaign last year.
Thirty-nine other states and the District of Columbia already have various versions of shield laws.
“Freedom of the press is enshrined in the First Amendment of the (U.S.) Constitution. In that sense this isn’t a conservative principle or a liberal principle. This is really an American principle,” Representative Jon Hansen said.
The Dell Rapids Republican was prime sponsor of the legislation. The South Dakota Broadcasters Association, the governor’s office and the South Dakota Newspaper Association supported it during a House committee hearing February 6.
“Confidential sources are vital to keeping citizens informed about our communities, our local government, our schools, our workplaces, and as well about statewide issues that have an impact on our lives in our state. And conflicts over subpoenas and other demands for information obtained during the newsgathering process have occurred in South Dakota,” Hansen said Monday.
Representative Taffy Howard spoke against it.
“The Bill of Rights is enough, and I think in doing this, and enacting this bill, we are in essence eliminating that right of free press,” the Rapid City Republican said.
She added, “This bill defines a journalist, and you’re going down the road of limiting who is a journalist and who can potentially fall back on using the Bill of Rights to protect themselves.”
The legislation doesn’t cover bloggers whose work can be read for free on the Internet.
Senator Lee Schoenbeck, a Watertown Republican, is lead sponsor on the Senate side. Hansen and Schoenbeck are lawyers.
Their bill says a journalist must be engaged for pay “in gathering, preparing, collecting, writing, editing, filming, taping, or photographing news for publication in or with a newspaper, magazine, news agency, press association, wire service, or other professional medium or agency that has as one of its principal functions the processing and researching of news intended for publication.”
The definition further covers any person affiliated with the news organization and any student enrolled at an accredited university, college, or technical school in this state who meets those requirements.
Also covered would be any newscaster who for pay “is engaged in gathering, preparing, collecting, writing, editing, filming, taping, or broadcasting news on a radio or television station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.”
The legislation would grant “a privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent any other person from disclosing, any information obtained or received in confidence, or the identity of the source of the information.”
The privilege would apply to “a court in connection with any civil or criminal proceeding, the Legislature, any agency or other public body in the state having the power of contempt” including grand juries.