Hawaii lawmakers negotiate limits to shield law

Anita Hofschneider, Associated Press
Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- State Rep. Karl Rhoads says ongoing negotiations about the Hawaii shield law could lead to fewer protections for bloggers.

Lawmakers met to discuss new limits to the shield law on Monday. But they postponed voting on the bill until Thursday, the last day for non-fiscal bills to be sent to the House and Senate clerks.

The law that protects journalists from revealing their sources will expire in June if lawmakers don't come to an agreement.

Lawmakers in both chambers support making it permanent but want to limit its scope. Currently the law has exceptions for felony and defamation cases, but key lawmakers say that's not enough.

The state House and Senate have already agreed to expand the exceptions to civil cases, potential felonies and cases involving unlawful injury to people or animals.

Sen. Clayton Hee, the lead Senate negotiator on the bill and head of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, has further sought to remove protections for free newspapers, online newspapers and reporters' unpublished notes.

The Democrat also wants to give defendants in criminal cases more power to subpoena information.

Rhoads, the lead House negotiator on the measure, countered last week with a proposal that maintains protections for free, digital newspapers but accepts some of Hee's other changes, including the release of unpublished notes and greater subpoena power for defendants.

Rhoads, also a Democrat, said Monday that the ongoing discussions in the negotiating committee could lead to less protection for bloggers but more protection for unpublished information.

Republican members of the committee, Rep. Cynthia Thielen and Sen. Sam Slom, have said they would prefer to make the existing shield law permanent without any changes.

Hawaii media organizations have harshly criticized Hee's amendments, arguing that the measures reflect a lack of understanding of the evolving news media industry.

The state attorney general's office has been pushing for the changes, saying the current law is too ambiguous and needs stricter definitions.