Shield law proposal gains initial support in Wyoming House of Representatives

Tom Coulter, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne
·2 min read

Mar. 4—CHEYENNE — The Wyoming House of Representatives gave initial approval Thursday to a bill that would prevent journalists from being sued to disclose their confidential sources, a protection often referred to as a shield law.

House Bill 103, which gained committee approval Monday, would protect journalists in Wyoming from being held in contempt of court for refusing to disclose a confidential source or piece of information during a legal proceeding. If approved, Wyoming would join 48 other states that have some version of shield law in place, with Hawaii being the only other state to lack any protection after its shield law expired in 2015.

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account to continue reading.

Sign Up

Log In

Purchase a Subscription

During testimony in the House Judiciary Committee, journalists from several Wyoming news outlets spoke of the need for a shield law, arguing it is essential for investigative reporting and transparency.

Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, told his colleagues Thursday on the House floor that a shield law would also protect sources who otherwise may not be willing to speak about a controversial topic.

"You're more likely to say some bad things are going on in your company or the government or business if your anonymity can be protected, what we call 'off the record,'" Zwonitzer said.

During discussion Thursday, lawmakers in the House adopted a committee amendment to clarify who qualifies as a journalist under the bill, as well as a couple exceptions to the law, such as when the confidential information could pose an imminent risk or during defamation lawsuits.

There was little debate over the proposal on the floor, as lawmakers advanced the bill by a voice vote shortly after adopting the amendment. Last year, a similar shield law proposal fell three votes short of being introduced in the House.

House Bill 103 will need two more votes in its originating chamber before it could head to the Senate for further consideration.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.