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Judiciary Takes No Action On Shield Law

The Senate Judiciary ended its hearing on a federal shield law bill without a vote Thursday.

That's according to the president of the Society for Professional Journalists, which has been tracking and backing the bill.

An attorney for the committee confirmed the bill was debated but not voted on, saying that was because enough Senators left so that they no longer had a quorum (the minium number of senators needed for a vote). No word on when it would be voted on.

"I got a call at a little after noon saying they had decided to postpone the rest of the hearing to a later date," said SPJ President Kevin Smith.

"We anticipated a yes or no vote," he said, "what we weren't prepared for was 'We're taking too much time here, let's just hang on and do this another time.'"

He said SPJ was "strongly encouraging" the committee to move the bill to the floor. “Every day journalists operate in this country without protection for its sources is another day the American public is potentially denied the type of courageous reporting that keeps a watch on government. We hope the Senate does the right thing for its citizens and allows this bill to become law."

The bill, which passed in the House last March, prevents journalists or their sources from being compelled to testify in federal courts, with carve-outs for national security, cases of imminent harm, and leaks of personal, medical or information related to trade secrets. Though even in those cases a judge would have to balance those interests against the public interest in revealing the information.

Journalists have been working for two decades for protection of journalists and their sources on a federal level similar to either legislative or legal protections in virtually all the states.