By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER
HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers are debating where to draw the line between journalists’ right to protect confidential sources and the needs of law enforcement.
The Senate judiciary committee plans to vote this afternoon on a bill to extend and amend the state’s shield law, which expires in June. Senators had scheduled decision-making for Tuesday but decided to push back the vote.
Media organizations say Hawaii’s existing law is a nationwide model.
The law currently protects reporters and non-traditional journalists from subpoenas, with exceptions. One exception is if sources and notes are needed in felony or defamation cases.
But Hawaii Attorney General David Louie said the law is unclear and too broad.
The House has already agreed to make reporters’ information vulnerable to subpoenas in civil cases, potential felonies and cases involving unlawful injuries to people or animals.
Senators in the judiciary committee will vote Wednesday on whether to accept those changes. The senators may also choose to limit the law’s scope even further.
The attorney general is asking senators to remove protections for non-traditional reporters such as bloggers. He wants the law to apply only to professional journalists and told lawmakers that the inclusion of non-traditional journalists goes “well beyond any statutory journalists’ shield enacted in any state.”
Media organizations say that the provision is necessary due to the changing nature of journalism.
The attorney general also wants an exception to the law for defendants who need the information to ensure their constitutional right to a fair trial.
Louie said law enforcement should have access to reporters’ unpublished information if it doesn’t reveal a source’s identity. He also wants the law to include more definitions.
Hawaii news organizations say that there’s nothing wrong with the existing shield law, which has been in place for five years.
The Hawaii Shield Law Coalition, a group of 16 media organizations including the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and The Associated Press, has argued against changing the law beyond making it permanent.
Advocates for maintaining an expansive shield law say that watering down the law would endanger the free press and the ability of the media to expose injustice in the state.