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The Hawaii Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee unanimously voted on Thursday to pass a two-year extension of the state shield law, which protects journalists from the compelled disclosure of their sources and newsgathering materials.
The bill is scheduled to go before the full Senate. The House has already approved the measure.
In 2008, Hawaii became the 36th state to pass a shield law. The law provides a qualified privilege for journalists to refuse to reveal sources and the content of newsgathering materials. It covers any individual who works for or previously worked for a magazine, newspaper, or radio or television station. The law also protects online journalists if they regularly report on information of public interest. It is set to expire on June 30 if the extension isn't signed into law.
At Thursday’s hearing, members of the Judiciary’s Standing Committee on Rules of Evidence indicated that they want to re-examine the law after they gather information about other states' shield laws, and the law's effect on the media and the prosecution of cases. To that end, the bill requires that shortly before the start of the 2012 legislative session, the Rules of Evidence Committee must recommend whether to retain the provisional statute, codify it or repeal it. The extension, which would not alter any of the substantive protections under the shield law, would expire on June 30, 2013.
Hawaii media attorney Jeff Portnoy was optimistic that the bill will pass the full Senate, noting: “I’m not aware of significant opposition either by prosecutors or by the attorney general or by anyone."
The shield law’s protections were exercised in 2009 when Kauai Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe granted a documentary filmmaker’s request to keep his unpublished footage and sources confidential.
West Virginia earlier this week became the 40th state, along with the District of Columbia, to enact a shield law.