Free Flow of Information Act Passes House Committee
SB 966 protects journalists from being forced to testify or disclose confidential sources
AUSTIN -- The Texas House Judiciary Committee today passed SB 966, the Free Flow of Information Act, legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) to protect journalists from being forced to testify or disclose confidential sources. Senate Bill 966, co-authored by Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) and sponsored in the House by Representative Corbin Van Arsdale (R-Houston) and Representative Aaron Pena (D-Edinburg), will now be considered by the full House.
"The press plays a vitally important role in our democracy and must be protected from government intimidation," said Ellis. "With the face of journalism and law enforcement rapidly changing in the 21st century, it is time for Texas to pass the Free Flow of Information Act to ensure journalists and their sources are protected in their jobs of keeping the public informed."
Thirty-three other states and the District of Columbia currently have some form of law protecting journalists and their sources, including California, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and every single state bordering Texas. Last month, the state of Washington passed similar legislation protecting journalists; the United States Congress is also currently debating legislation -- offered by two Republicans -- to enact a federal free flow of information law.
There is currently no state or federal constitutional protection for journalists who are called to testify, turn over reporters notes or otherwise participate in a criminal case in the state of Texas. Ideally the First Amendment would be such a shield, but the courts have largely taken away the understood privilege of the press to protect whistleblowers. The need to protect the confidentiality of sources is often fundamental to a reporter's job.
"Senate Bill 966 strikes the delicate balance between preserving the public's right to know the truth from an independent press, and the state's ability to uphold justice," said Ellis. "It ensures journalists can keep their sources and notes confidential, while still allowing law enforcement the ability to acquire truly necessary material. It is not an unbreakable shield, but simply a limited privilege for journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources."