NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · TEXAS · Confidentiality/Privilege · May 10, 2007
Shield bill survives Senate vote, moves to House
May 10, 2007 · The Texas Senate approved the Free Flow of Information Act last week in a 27-4 vote and has sent the bill on to the House of Representatives.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), would give journalists a qualified privilege to protect both their sources and their newsgathering materials.
An individual or entity seeking to subpoena a member of the news media would have to show by “clear and specific” evidence that “all reasonable efforts have been exhausted to obtain the information from an alternative source,” the request is not overbroad or oppressive, and that the news media received proper notice of the request.
Furthermore, the subpoena proponent would have to prove that his or her interest in the information “outweighs the public interest in gathering and dissemination of news” and that the subpoena does not ask for “nonessential” information. Finally, the party would have to show that the information is relevant and essential to the underlying case.
The bill failed to reach a vote in April. The legislation was amended with broader exceptions for crime and terrorism, and the Senate approved the bill on May 1.
The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony about the bill on Monday and “seemed to be favorably inclined” to passing it, according to Texas media attorney Laura Prather.
Prather said that the bill’s supporters have engaged in “exhaustive negotiations” with opponents and that many of the opponents’ “concerns have been alleviated.” She added thatsupporters of the bill are “cautiously optimistic,” and are heartened because a shield bill has “never gotten this far before.”
“We have every indication that they will vote it out of committee [in the House],” Prather said. However, she said that the legislative session is over on May 28, so proponents of the bills are trying to move the process along “as quickly as possible.”
If the bill makes it out of committee in the House, it would then go to the House calendaring committee before it can be put to a vote on the floor, according to Prather.
(S.B. 966) — ES