The Wisconsin Assembly yesterday passed the state’s first shield bill for reporters—clearing the first hurdle in the path to become a law, the Associated Press reported.
The Whistleblower Protection Act, which passed on a voice vote, was introduced in the state legislature last May with the support of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. Wisconsin journalists have previously relied on favorable court rulings that offered some protections for reporters.
The Wisconsin bill, which would offer a qualified privilege for reporters and their confidential sources, would be the 38th state-level shield law if enacted. But before the Wisconsin bill becomes law, it must also pass in the state senate and obtain the governor’s signature. Gov. Jim Doyle is generally supportive of the idea but hasn’t reviewed the bill yet, the Associated Press reported.
The bill would allow a judge to compel a reporter’s testimony or sources only if the information was "highly relevant" and the seeking party could show an overriding public interest in the disclosure of material that could not be obtained using other methods.
A shield law that would provide similar protections to journalists in federal court has been winding its way through Congress for the last two years, but last week the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proposed vote on the bill was met with resistance from some senators.