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Special Analysis: Explicit press protections in state and territorial emergency laws

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RCFP surveys the laws of all 50 states and five major U.S. territories for media-specific exemptions from emergency management laws.
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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has been comprehensively monitoring governments’ emergency responses to the outbreak of COVID-19. See our landing page here for information on public records, court access, and emergency measures, as well as an intake form to track COVID-19 related access issues. If you’re a journalist with questions about the potential legal impact of COVID-19 on your work, please contact the Reporters Committee’s hotline at hotline@rcfp.org.

In a separate special analysis, the Reporters Committee documented the expansive powers that federal, state, territorial, tribal, and local governments have in a public health emergency. To date, the primary public health interventions throughout the country have been “stay-at-home” and “social distancing” orders, including school and non-essential business closures and bans on large gatherings. All of these orders exempt the press from mobility restrictions.

As the situation continues to develop, government officials have other broad powers at their disposal, including the apprehension and detention of exposed individuals (quarantine), the apprehension and detention of the sick (isolation), the ability to commandeer private property, and possibly some ability to limit interstate travel, although that has been recognized as a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution.

Officials have issued individual quarantine and isolation orders but have not instituted national or regional lockdowns like Italy or, especially, China, which instituted geographic quarantines around entire cities. That said, some states have instituted checkpoints to stop out-of-state residents, which have raised legal concerns.

If misused, emergency public health powers could come into conflict with the newsgathering rights of journalists. Fortunately, many states, though far from all, have passed laws that explicitly protect the news media from the misuse of emergency powers to interfere with newsgathering or reporting.

These provisions allow journalists to continue moving through their communities to report the news and prohibit the government from commandeering newsrooms or news equipment. In this follow-up analysis, we survey the laws of all 50 states and the five major U.S. territories for media-specific exemptions from government emergency management laws.

Information about each state and territory follows a few initial observations. (As sovereign entities, tribal authorities have their own public health powers; for guidance on tribal public health laws, we suggest consulting the CDC website, including this helpful bulletin, or the individual tribal authority.)

The main takeaway is that more than half of the states and territories have some press carve-out in their emergency management laws.

About a third have general limitations provisions stating that emergency powers cannot “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs,” but that news outlets can be required to carry public service announcements about emergencies. (The exact wording varies slightly by state, and some states allow officials to only “request” that outlets do so, rather than “require.”)

These provisions originated in the 1970s, when many states updated their codes to provide for emergency management not only in the event of military incursion but also for natural disasters. An “Example State Disaster Act,” prepared by the Council of State Governments, was reported to Congress by the federal Office of Emergency Preparedness for “consideration by the states in any adaptation of their laws to meet the growing impact of disaster.” Nearly 20 states and territories adopted this provision protecting the press at that time.

Also, nearly a dozen states have also adopted “first informer broadcaster” laws in recent years, a recognition that in times of crisis, many Americans turn to broadcast news for essential information about conditions in their communities. These statutes vary somewhat in scope. At a minimum, they permit broadcasters who register with local or state governments to enter disaster areas to repair their equipment if it is damaged. But some first informer broadcaster laws grant broader privileges, such as giving broadcasters a say in emergency planning or making them exempt from commandeering.

Other states have their own unique media carve-outs from disaster laws, some generally applicable to all emergency powers and some providing exceptions only to particular powers. Narrower exemptions often apply specifically to commandeering provisions, preventing governments from seizing journalists’ facilities and equipment. (For that reason, where appropriate, we have also noted whether states have emergency commandeering power at all.) More details about the specific media carve-outs, if any, in each state and territory follow.

States

Alabama

Alabama’s emergency management laws have an express commandeering-related carve-out for the news media, stating that while property can be seized by the government during an emergency, that power of condemnation “shall not be exercised with regard to newspapers, wire facilities leased or owned by news services, and other news publications.” Ala. Code § 31-9-8(a)(3).

Alaska

The Alaska Disaster Act includes multiple express carve-outs for the news media.

A general limitation provision states that nothing in the rest of the law “interferes with or allows interference with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Alaska Stat. § 26.23.200. However, “any communications facility or organization, including but not limited to radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers, may be requested to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster emergency, in a manner that encroaches as little as possible upon the normal functions of the news media.” Id. The use of the word “request” (rather than an affirmative command) and the requirement that officials limit the encroachment likely makes Alaska’s carve-out more media-friendly than similar provisions in other states.

Alaska’s law also includes a further carve-out for the press, permitting commandeering of private property “except for all news media other than as specifically provided for” elsewhere in the law. Alaska Stat. § 26.23.020(g)(4). Other than the provision regarding public service messages, no other part of the law appears to provide for commandeering of news media.

Arizona

Arizona’s emergency powers law gives the governor broad authority to commandeer private property, without any carve-out for the press. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 26-303. Likewise, the state’s public health laws allow for quarantine and isolation, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 36-787 & 36-788, while also providing some due process protections for those subjected to such measures, but no explicit exceptions for the press. Ariz. Stat. Ann. § 36-789.

Arizona’s first informer broadcasters statute allows broadcasters to access and repair damaged equipment during an emergency. The statute also gives broadcast associations a role in crafting disaster response plans: “The division may coordinate with a broadcasting association in this state or a cable television telecommunication association in this state, or both, to develop comprehensive, coordinated plans for preparing for and responding appropriately to an emergency or disaster.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 26-320.

Arkansas

The Arkansas Emergency Services Act includes an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Ark. Code Ann. § 12-75-104(2).

“However, any communications facility or organization, including, but not limited to, radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster emergency.” Id.

California

California Government Code § 8572 gives the governor the power to commandeer or utilize any private property or personnel in a state of emergency (with reasonable compensation), but expressly exempts any “newspaper, newspaper wire service, or radio or television station” from such action. The governor may, however, use any news wire service to communicate information to the public, if no other means of communication are available, but is obligated to minimize interference with the transmission of the news.

Similarly, California Penal Code § 409.5(d) permits law enforcement to cordon off areas of “calamity” and to punish those who violate the cordon, but exempts “duly authorized representative[s] of any news service, newspaper, or radio or television station or network.”

Colorado

The Colorado public emergency laws include an express carve-out for the media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions shall be construed to “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs; except that any communications facility or organization, including but not limited to radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers, may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster emergency.” Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 24-33.5-702(b).

The governor has the power to commandeer or utilize private property in an emergency. Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 24-33.5-704 (7)(d).

Connecticut

The Connecticut Public Health Emergency Response Act does not provide any carve-outs for the press, but it does call on the governor to give public notice of public health emergencies through the news media: “The Governor shall ensure that any declaration or order issued pursuant to the provisions of this section shall be (1) published in full at least once in a newspaper having general circulation in each county, (2) provided to news media, and (3) posted on the state Internet web site. Failure to take the actions specified in subdivisions (1) to (3), inclusive, of this subsection shall not impair the validity of such declaration or order.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 19a-131a(c).

The state’s broader emergency powers laws, found in chapter 517 of the state code, also provide no carve-outs for the news media, but likewise require publishing orders in a newspaper: “The Secretary of the State shall, not later than four days after receipt of the order, cause such order to be printed and published in full in at least one issue of a newspaper published in each county and having general circulation therein, but failure to publish shall not impair the validity of such order.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 28-9(1).

Delaware

During an emergency or disaster, the governor may “utilize any private, public, or quasi-public property if necessary to cope with the emergency or disaster.” Del. Code Ann. tit. 20, § 3116(b)(1). The emergency law does not include a carve-out for the press. The public health emergencies provisions of the law do not address the First Amendment, but it allows the state to exercise emergency powers to implement isolation or quarantine. Del. Code. Ann. tit. 20, § 3136.

Florida

The Florida Emergency Management Law includes an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “[i]nterfere with the dissemination of news or comment on public affairs,” but that communications facilities and news organizations can be required to transmit public service messages in connection with the emergency. Fla. Stat. § 252.33.

Georgia

Georgia’s law permits commandeering of private property without any carve-out for the news media. See Ga. Code § 38-3-51.

Georgia also has a “first informer broadcaster” law that exempts broadcasters designated as such by the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency from having “vehicles, fuel, food, water, and any other materials seized or condemned that are essential for maintaining or producing a broadcast or broadcasting signal.” Ga. Code §§ 38-3-57(f)(1)(C), 38-3-57(f)(2)(C).

Hawaii

Hawaii’s emergency powers law includes a substantial provision addressing media access to emergency areas. It calls for media to be given access to disaster areas to the extent possible. If safety does not allow full press access, the law requires the designation of pool reporters to act as media representatives. The law also gives some discretion to state officials to handle media access as safety dictates and disclaims liability if reporters are harmed in disaster areas. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 127A-12(d).

However, Hawaii law also gives the governor in a statewide emergency, or the mayor in a local emergency, the power to “suspend electronic media transmission.” Haw. Rev. Stat. § 127A-13.

Idaho

Idaho’s State Disaster Preparedness Act includes an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Idaho Code § 46-1007(2). Unlike the laws of many other states, this limitation does not have an exception for mandatory public service messages.

The Act allows for the commandeering of private property. Idaho Code § 46-1008(5)(d).

Illinois

Illinois’s Emergency Management Agency Act includes an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” 20 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 3305/3(b).

However, “any communications facility or organization (including but not limited to radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers) may be requested to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster.” Id. Notably, whereas other states’ statutes with similar language say “required,” the Illinois law uses the less mandatory word “requested.”

Further, Illinois has a First Informer Broadcasters Act that allows broadcasters who complete training and certification to access and repair their equipment during an emergency. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 170/15. The law also provides for coordination between broadcasters and state emergency management officials on disaster planning. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 170/10.

Indiana

Indiana’s emergency management law includes an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Ind. Code § 10-14-3-8(a)(2).

“However, a communications facility or organization, including radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers, may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster emergency.” Id.

Iowa

Iowa’s emergency management and security laws permit commandeering of private property. Iowa Code § 29C.6. There is no explicit carve-out for the news media.

The law requires the secretary of state to announce emergencies in the news media: “Notice of a proclamation of a state of public disorder emergency shall be given by the secretary of state by publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the area affected, by broadcast through radio and television serving the area affected, and by posting signs at conspicuous places within this area. The exercise of the special powers by the governor under this section shall not be precluded by the lack of giving notice if the giving of notice has been diligently attempted.” Iowa Code § 29C.3.

Kansas

Kansas’s Emergency Management Agency Act includes an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Kan. Stat. Ann. § 48-923(b).

However, “any communications facility or organization, including but not limited to radio and television stations, wire services and newspapers, may be required by the governor to transmit or print public service messages, information or instructions in connection with a declared state of disaster emergency.” Id.

Kentucky

Kentucky emergency law permits the governor to commandeer private property, without exception for the media. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 39A.100(1)(c).

Louisiana

The Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act does not include a specific exclusion for the press, but it does include a limitation that nothing in the law should be interpreted “to diminish the rights guaranteed to all persons under the Declaration of Rights of the Louisiana Constitution or the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution,” which includes the freedoms of speech and press. La. Rev. Stat. § 29:736.

Maine

The Maine Emergency Management Act does not provide an explicit carveout for the press. Under the law, the governor may authorize the obtaining and acquisition of property, so long as the situation requires it as a matter of public necessity or convenience. Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 37-B, § 742(1)(C)(4) and § 821.

The termination of an emergency proclamation “must be published in newspapers of the State and posted in places that the Governor considers appropriate.” Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 37-B, § 743.

Maine has implemented laws under the United States Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, which allow for the establishment of local emergency planning committees. Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 37-B, § 791. Such a committee must include representatives of “broadcast and print media.” Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 37-B, § 793.

Maryland

Neither the emergency management provisions of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency Act nor other provisions of state law include carve-outs for the press. Md. Code, Pub. Safety §14-3A.

Under the Maryland Emergency Management Agency Act, the governor may “authorize the use of private property, in which event the owner of the property shall be compensated for its use and for any damage to the property.” Md. Code, Pub. Safety § 14-107. In promulgating a state of emergency declaration with subsequent orders and regulations, the governor may rely on the media to disseminate information. Md. Code, Pub. Safety § 14-303 (c).

Massachusetts

Neither the emergency management provisions of the Massachusetts Civil Defense Act of 1950 nor the provisions of state law addressing public health emergencies include carve-outs for the press. The Civil Defense Act does permit the governor to seize real property. 1950 Mass. Acts Ch. 639, § 5(b).

Michigan

Michigan’s Emergency Management Act includes an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 30.417(b).

“However, any communications facility or organization, including radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers, may be requested to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster or emergency.” Id.

Minnesota

Minnesota’s emergency management laws permit state officials to commandeer private property. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 12.34. There is no carve-out for the news media. The law does call for state emergency plans to be published in the news media. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 12.21.

Mississippi

Mississippi’s commandeering law permits the governor to “utilize or commandeer any private property” but provides an explicit exception for the news media, allowing for the commandeering of, “[f]or use during emergency only, all means of transportation and communication, except newspapers, or publications, or wire facilities leased or owned by news services, newspapers and other news publications.” Miss. Code Ann. § 33-15-13.

Missouri

Missouri’s emergency laws do not include any general carve-outs for the press.

Missouri’s First Informer Broadcasters Act focuses on natural disasters like tornadoes and its relevance to a pandemic may be limited. Under the law, broadcasters who complete a training and certification process are granted access to disaster areas if necessary to repair their equipment. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 190.260.

Montana

Montana law includes an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “interfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Mont. Code. Ann. § 10-3-102.

“However, any communications facility or organization, including but not limited to radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers, may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with an emergency or disaster.” Id.

Nebraska

Nebraska’s emergency management law includes an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Neb. Rev. Stat. §81-829.38(2)

However, “any communications facility or organization, including, but not limited to, radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers, may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster, emergency, or civil defense emergency.” Id.

Nevada

Nevada’s emergency laws permit the state to commandeer private property. Nev. Rev. Stat. § 414.070(3).

There is a carve-out for the media under Nevada’s first informer broadcaster law. Specifically, “[t]o the extent practical and consistent with not endangering public safety,” emergency powers do not “allow the confiscation of vehicles, fuel, food, water or any other equipment, supplies or facilities from a broadcaster or first response broadcaster if the broadcaster or first response broadcaster adequately documents that the equipment, supplies or facilities will be used to enable the broadcast of essential emergency- or disaster-related public information programming in an area affected by an emergency or disaster.” Nev. Rev. Stat. § 414.340.

Also under the first informer broadcaster law, the state government must allow broadcasters access to disaster areas for the purposes of fixing essential equipment. Nev. Rev. Stat. § 414.320.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s laws governing public emergencies do not provide any explicit carve-outs for the press. During a declared state of emergency, the governor, with the advice and consent of the executive council, may in necessary situations take possession of private property, including “any communications equipment or systems.” N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 4:46(I)(c)(5).

New Jersey

New Jersey’s laws governing public emergencies — and, more specifically, public health emergencies — do not provide any explicit carve-outs for the press. Notably, under the state’s Emergency Health Powers law, public officials during a public health emergency can commandeer property including “communication devices.” N.J. Stat. Ann. § 26:13-9. The law does not specify what constitutes a “communication device” under the law.

Under the general emergency powers, the governor is authorized to “commandeer and utilize any personal services and any privately owned property necessary to avoid or protect” the public in any emergency. N.J. Stat. Ann. § App.A:9-34. Further, the governor is authorized to require any citizen of the state to furnish him any information “reasonably necessary to enable him to carry out the purposes of this act.” N.J. Stat. Ann. § App.A:9-36.

New Mexico

New Mexico’s emergency laws reference the news media in a couple of contexts. Under the All Hazard Emergency Management Act, the governor is authorized to provide resources to avoid or minimize economic or physical harm, which includes the provision of lodging and other necessities. N.M. Stat. Ann. § 12-10-4(b)(3). Under the law, the governor shall make an emergency proclamation with restrictions and “give public notice of its contents through the public press and other news media.” N.M. Stat. Ann. § 12-10-17, 18.

Under the state’s Public Health Emergency Response law, the secretary of health may isolate or quarantine a person as necessary during a public health emergency but must ensure that “there are methods of communication available to a person placed in isolation or quarantine so that he may communicate with others, including family members, household members, legal representatives, advocates and the media.” N.M. Stat. Ann. § 12-10A-8(B)(6) (emphasis added).

New York

New York’s laws governing public emergencies do not provide any explicit carve-outs for the press. The law does require notice of a local emergency through the news media, but not in language that seems compulsory on the press: “A local emergency order shall be effective from the time and in the manner prescribed in the order and shall be published as soon as practicable in a newspaper of general circulation in the area affected by such order and transmitted to the radio and television media for publication and broadcast.” N.Y. Exec. Law § 24(2).

North Carolina

North Carolina has an express carve-out for the news media, stating that emergency powers may not “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 166A-19.2(1).

However, “any communications facility or organization, including, but not limited to, radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers may be requested to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with an emergency, disaster, or war.” Id. (emphasis added).

North Dakota

North Dakota’s emergency services law includes an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” N.D. Cent. Code § 37-17.1-03(2).

However, “[a]ny communications facility or organization, including radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster or emergency situation.” Id.

The state’s health and safety code permits state officers who are ordering isolation or quarantine to provide notice through mass media. “The state or local health officer may also use any available mass media, including broadcasting, to provide notice and information about the written directive.” N.D. Cent. Code § 23-07.6-03(1)(c).

Ohio

Ohio’s emergency laws do not have any carve-out for the media, nor do they mention commandeering private property. Ohio Rev. Code §§ 5502.21–5502.41.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma does not appear to have any broad carve-outs for the news media from its emergency powers laws. But the state’s emergency statutes do address the rights of the news media in a couple of more limited ways.

Oklahoma’s Emergency Response Act creates local emergency planning committees that must include “broadcast and print media.” Okla. Stat. tit. 27A, § 4-2-103. The state’s First Informer Broadcaster Act allows certified broadcasters to access disaster areas for “the purpose of restoring, repairing, or resupplying any facility or equipment critical to the ability of a broadcaster to acquire, produce, and transmit essential emergency or disaster-related public information programming, including, without limitation, repairing and maintaining transmitters and generators, and transporting fuel for generators.” Okla. Stat. tit. 63, § 683.36.

Oregon

Oregon’s emergency law gives a broad mandate to the governor to utilize private property during an emergency. Specifically, the governor may “[p]rescribe and direct activities in connection with use, conservation, salvage and prevention of waste of materials, services and facilities, including, but not limited to, production, transportation, power and communication facilities training, and supply of labor, utilization of industrial plants, health and medical care, nutrition, housing, rehabilitation, education, welfare, child care, recreation, consumer protection and other essential civil needs.” Or. Rev. Stat. § 401.188(2). Other than “communication facilities training,” there is no specific reference to the media, but the list of industries that may be commandeered is not exclusive.

Oregon has a first informer broadcaster law that, most relevantly, permits employees of such designated broadcasters to access emergency areas for “the purposes of maintaining transmitters, generators or other essential equipment at a broadcast station or facility used to acquire, produce or transmit news or public safety information related to the emergency.” Or. Rev. Stat. § 401.239(2)(b).

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania provides for express commandeering of private property, with no carve-outs for the news media. 35 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7301(f)(4).

Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s emergency management laws include an explicit carve-out for the press, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can “interfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs; but any communications facility or organization (including but not limited to radio or television stations, wire services, and newspapers) may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster emergency.” 30 R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 30-15-4(2).

The governor does have the ability to “commandeer or utilize any private property if [he/she] finds this necessary to cope with the disaster emergency.” 30 R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 30-15-9.

South Carolina

South Carolina’s emergency law does not have any express carve-out for the press, nor does it appear to provide for commandeering of private property. See S.C. Code § 25-1-440.

South Dakota

South Dakota’s emergency laws do not appear to include any exceptions for the news media. The law permits commandeering of private property, other than money, during emergencies. S.D. Codified Laws § 34-48A-5.

Tennessee

Tennessee has an explicit carve-out for the new media, stating that general emergency powers may not “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Tenn. Code § 58-2-105(2).

However, “any communications facility or organization, including, but not limited to, radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers, may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with an emergency.” Id.

Texas

Texas has an explicit carve-out for the news media, stating that the general emergency powers may not “interfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Tex. Gov’t Code § 418.003(3).

However, “any communications facility or organization, including radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers, may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster or potential disaster.” Id.

Utah

Utah’s emergency management laws permit the governor to “purchase or lease” private property. Utah Code Ann. § 53-2a-211. There are no explicit carve-outs in the statute for news media.

Vermont

Vermont’s emergency laws include an explicit carve-out for the press. Although the governor in an all-hazards event has the ability “to enter into a contract on behalf of the state for the lease or loan … of any real or personal property of the state government, or the temporary transfer or employment of personnel thereof to any town or city of the state, … the chief executive or legislative branch of such town or city may equip, maintain, utilize and operate such property except newspapers and other publications, radio stations, places of worship and assembly, and other facilities for the exercise of constitutional freedom.” Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 20, § 11.

Further, local emergency planning committees “should include representatives from” the media. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 20, § 32.

Virginia

Virginia has an explicit carve-out for the news media, stating that the general emergency powers may not “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Va. Code § 44-146.15(2).

However, “any communications facility or organization, including, but not limited to, radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers, may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with actual or pending disaster.” Id.

Virginia also has a first informer broadcaster law that states: “Unless it is shown to endanger public safety or inhibit recovery efforts, or is otherwise prohibited by state or federal law, state and local government agencies shall permit first informer radio or television personnel with proper identification cards to access their broadcasting station within any area declared a state emergency area by the Governor for the purpose of provision of news, public service and public safety information and repairing or resupplying their facility or equipment.” Va. Code § 44-146.18:3(B).

“First informers” are defined as the following: “For purposes of this section, unless the context requires otherwise, ‘first informer’ means the critical radio or television personnel of a radio or television broadcast station engaged in (i) the process of broadcasting; (ii) the maintenance or repair of broadcast station equipment, transmitters, and generators; or (iii) the transportation of fuel for generators of broadcast stations.” Va. Code § 44-146.18:3(A).

Washington

Washington state law allows the governor to commandeer private property, but only as a last resort. Wash. Rev. Code § 38.52.110.

Washington has a first informer broadcaster law and provides such broadcasters with an exemption from commandeering during emergencies: “A vehicle, fuel, food, water, or other essential materials brought into an area affected by an emergency or disaster by a first informer broadcaster may not be seized or confiscated, except as otherwise authorized by law.” Id.

The law defines first informer broadcaster as a person who “[i]s employed by, or acting pursuant to a contract under the direction of, a broadcaster” and “[m]aintains, including repairing or resupplying, transmitters, generators, or other essential equipment at a broadcast station or facility” or “provides technical support services to broadcasters needed during a period of proclaimed emergency.” Wash. Rev. Code § 38.52.010(14). Registration with the state as a first informer broadcaster is required.

West Virginia 

West Virginia’s emergency law permits the government to commandeer private property and does not have any express carve-out for the media. W. Va. Code § 15-5-6(3).

Wisconsin

Wisconsin permits the governor to commandeer private property and does not have any express carve-out for the media. Wis. Stat. § 312.12(4)(a).

Wyoming

Wyoming’s emergency laws, housed in Title 19 of its code on Defense Forces and Affairs, does not include any specific press carve-outs. But it also does not seem to give the governor express power to commandeer private property either. See. e.g., Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 19-13-104, 19-13-111.

Territories

American Samoa 

American Samoa’s Territorial Disaster Assistance Act contains an express carve-out for the press, stating that nothing in the Act should be construed to “interfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 26.0103(2).

However, “any communications facility or organization (including but not limited to radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers) may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with a disaster emergency.” Id.

Under the Emergency Health Powers Act, the director of the Department of Health may “close, direct, and compel the evacuation of, or decontaminate or cause to be decontaminated any facility of which it has reasonable cause to believe that it may have been exposed to, subjected to, or the cause of a public health emergency.” Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 13.0319(1). The director may also “decontaminate or cause to be decontaminated, or destroy, any material of which it has reasonable cause to believe that it may have been exposed to, subjected to, or the cause of a public health emergency.” Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 13.0319(3).

Guam

The Guam Civil Defense Act appears to give the governor power to commandeer private property. 10 Guam Code Ann. § 65107. The territory’s emergency laws have no explicit carve-outs for the news media.

Northern Mariana Islands 

Under the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Act, public officials may commandeer private property. 1 N. Mar. I. Code § 20144(h). Assuming the governor has declared an emergency, officials may condemn private property to “respond to the major disaster or a state significant emergency, with the right to take immediate possession thereof. Such materials and facilities include, but are not limited to, communications devices, carriers, real estate, fuels and food.” 1 N. Mar. I. Code § 20144(h)(1). There is no carve-out for the press.

Under the Emergency Health Powers Act, public officials are authorized to commandeer private property “to respond to the public health emergency, with the right to take immediate possession thereof. Such materials and facilities include, but are not limited to, communication devices, carriers, real estate, fuels, food and clothing.” 3 N. Mar. I. Code § 2191(a). There is no carve-out for the press.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico law gives the Secretary of Health open-ended power to address epidemics. P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 3, § 175. The territory’s emergency management laws give the governor power to use eminent domain to seize private property during disasters. P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 25, § 172o. Property subject to this law includes “land, buildings, means of transportation and communication, food, clothing, equipment, materials of any kind, medicines, and any other basic commodities.” Id.

The law does not include any explicit exceptions or carve-outs for the media, but it does call on officials to create “an educational program on the prevention of disasters and emergency management with the participation of public and private entities and the media.” P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 25, § 172e.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ emergency management laws include an express carve-out for the news media, stating that nothing in the general emergency provisions can be used to “[i]nterfere with dissemination of news or comment on public affairs.” V.I. Code Ann. tit. 23, § 1003.

However, “any communications facility or organization (including but not limited to radio and television stations, wire services, and newspapers) may be required to transmit or print public service messages furnishing information or instructions in connection with an emergency or major disaster.” Id.

The territory’s emergency management laws give the governor power to commandeer private property. V.I. Code Ann. tit. 23, § 1005.


The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.