Shield Bill Passes Senate

MNS – [Madison, Wisc…] Assembly Bill 333, which supporters named the journalists’ shield bill, passed the Wisconsin State Senate today on a voice vote.

The bill creates a new, specific, reporter shield law in the state–protecting journalists from having to testify in court or divulge confidential sources in most cases.

This bill prohibits a person, other than a court, from issuing a subpoena compelling a news person to testify or produce information about any of the following: 

  1. The identity of a confidential news source. 
  2. Any information that would tend to identify a confidential news source. 
  3. Any information obtained in confidence by a news person in gathering or preparing information for potential dissemination to the public. 
  4. Any other information or identity of a source of information that is obtained  by a news person in gathering or preparing information for potential dissemination to the public. 

According to the analysis of the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, the bill gives the court authority, after a hearing, to issue a subpoena to compel a news person to testify or produce information

The court may issue the subpoena if the person who requests the subpoena  establishes by clear and convincing evidence, in a criminal investigation, that a  crime has occurred, or in a civil action, that the complaint states a claim upon which  relief may be granted, and if all of the following conditions apply: 

1.  The information or identity of the source is highly relevant to the criminal investigation or civil action. 

2.  The information or identity of the source is critical or necessary to the maintenance of the party’s claim, defense, or to the proof of an issue material to the criminal investigation or civil action. 

3.  The information or identity of the source of the information is not obtainable from any alternative source. 

4.  There is an overriding public interest in the disclosure of the information or identity of the source of the information. 

The bill also restricts the issuance of a subpoena to order a person who is not a news person to testify or produce information related to a business transaction between that person and a news person if the intent is to obtain information that cannot be obtained from the news person.  There are exceptions to this restriction  under the bill if the information is highly relevant, necessary for the party’s claim or defense, and not obtainable from other sources. 

The bill allows the court, in a criminal investigation in which a news person is  the subject of the investigation, to order the issuance of a subpoena at the request of the prosecutor without giving the news person advance notice of the request and a hearing if the court determines that giving advance notice would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.

Assuming Governor Doyle signs the bill, which had earlier cleared the Assembly, Wisconsin will become the 39th state to enact a shield law which provides certain protections for journalists and their confidential sources.