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Texas moves closer to a state shield law

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
A reporter's shield bill passed through a Texas state Senate committee Wednesday and is now due for a full Senate vote,…

A reporter’s shield bill passed through a Texas state Senate committee Wednesday and is now due for a full Senate vote, edging ever closer to final passage.

The Senate Jurisprudence Committee unanimously passed the measure, Senate Bill 915, which would give reporters a qualified privilege from being compelled to disclose confidential sources and material. The privilege can be overcome if a number of conditions are met, such as that the information cannot be reasonable obtained from other sources, the interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in confidentiality, and the material is relevant or central to a claim.

A House committee passed its companion legislation, House Bill 670, last week. Attorney Laura Prather, who led negotiations on behalf of the media, said there are no substantive differences between the versions; she anticipates the measure could be considered by both the House and Senate as early as next week.

No shield law currently exists in Texas, despite state lawmakers’ repeated attempts to get one enacted in each of the past three legislative sessions. Journalists and local prosecutors had long been divided on the issue, Prather said.

But the Senate committee’s latest version contains "nothing that compromises the integrity of the legislation," the media attorney said.  In fact, she said,  the latest changes make it "clearer and easier for the court to apply," as the bill now separates and clarifies its provisions for civil and criminal issues.