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Shield Law Slated For Fast-Track Vote

The federal shield law bill--The Free Flow of Information Act--is being fast-tracked in the House today and co-sponsor Rep. Rick Boucher, chairman of the House Communications, Technology and Internet Subcommittee, is confident it will gain the requisite two-thirds majority.

A bill can be put to a vote without amendments, as the Shield Law bill is being handled, but must gain a 2/3 majority according to House rules. A similar attempt was made to pass the first DTV date-change bill, but it failed.

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee last week, though not without criticism from some Republicans, who said it would create a special status for journalists, and did not define that term narrowly enough.

Boucher, who spoke at a National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership conference in Washington Tuesday morning, said the shield law bill was essential so that journalists would be able to give pledges of confidentiality to their sources.

The bill 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.

Boucher asked broadcasters to send out a legislative alert urging all 435 House members to support the bill, but told reporters after his speech that he did not do so out of concern that the bill would not get the necessary House votes, though he was not making any predictions about Senate passage.

"I think it clearly will get two thirds," he said. "The vote we received the last time was 398 to 21. This time I am simply saying in the exercise of complete prudence that it is appropriate to remind members of Congress that the NAB strongly supports this measure. I am not going to predict Senate action, but we have a strong base of support for this measure in the House. To protect the public's interest and the public's right to know I think it is necessary to obtain passage.

The same bill passed overwhelmingly in the House last session--one of the reasons Boucher was confident it would pass this time in that body.