Kansas shield bill awaits governor's signature

Cristina Abello | Reporter's Privilege | Feature | March 31, 2010

The Kansas Legislature passed a state shield law for reporters on Tuesday night that will now go to Gov. Mark Parkinson for his signature.

Both chambers of the Legislature approved the measure to provide Kansas reporters with a qualified reporter's privilege by an overwhelming margin -- the Senate voted 39-1 and the House 116-3.

Notably, in addition to traditional publications and broadcasts, the definition of journalism in the new law also includes "online journal[s] in the regular business of newsgathering and disseminating news or information to the public." Judges could construe that definition to cover unpaid writers of blogs and student journalists.

Legislators in favor of the law cited the recent legal battle between prosecutors and Kansas reporter Claire O'Brien over the name of a source and her news gathering materials. Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said it was a good example of the “fishing expeditions” the law seeks to remedy.

"Certainly the subpoena of [O'Brien] provided us an actual example of what can happen when there is little or no protection for reporters,” Anstaett said.

The Legislature voted after members of both parties reached a compromise late Tuesday. Because it is a qualified privilege, the party seeking disclosure must meet a three-part judicial test before a court will compel the reporter to produce the information sought. Some members of the House wanted to eliminate the requirement that the party seeking disclosure use "due diligence" to obtain the information elsewhere – that provision remains in the approved bill with some tweaks in language.