Final Bell Tolls for Free Flow of Information Act
Legislation to protect a free and independent press fails to pass Senate on final day
AUSTIN -- A last ditch effort to revive the Free Flow of Information Act died a quiet death today in the Texas Senate, as enough senators chose not to debate any additional legislation. Supporters of SB 966 believed they had the 24 votes necessary to suspend the rules and take up and consider legislation after the deadline but, following a Caucus of the Whole of the Texas Senate, legislators deferred additional debate on pending business.
Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) had worked closely with Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) and Representative Corbin Van Arsdale (R-Houston) and Representative Mark Strama (D-Austin) to amend the Free Flow of Information Act onto HB 3293. After more than a day of fevered efforts to wrangle votes, the lawmakers received commitments from the 24 needed to bring the bill to a vote.
"I'm deeply disappointed that the Free Flow of Information Act failed to be debated today," said Senator Ellis. "I firmly believe that we had the votes to pass this vital piece of legislation. Apparently, this issue was just a little too hot for some this session, but we'll be back."
The Free Flow of Information Act passed the Texas Senate 27-4, but was killed on a minor technicality in the Texas House on Monday. Supporters and advocates for the legislation had support pledges from a large majority in the House and believe the legislation would have easily passed the chamber if not for the procedural motion.
The Free Flow of Information Act would have protected journalists from being forced to testify or disclose confidential sources. Thirty-three other states and the District of Columbia currently have some form of law protecting journalists and their sources. 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. Senator Ellis first filed similar legislation in 1991.
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. It ensures journalists can keep their sources and notes confidential, while still allowing law enforcement the ability to acquire truly necessary material.
"While I am disappointed, we made tremendous progress this session. Twenty-seven Senators voted for this legislation; a majority of the House backed the plan. I firmly believe we will pass this legislation next session. Opponents may have won this battle, but we will win the war.
"It was a pleasure working with Senator Robert Duncan, Representative Corbin Van Arsdale, advocates in the media and legal world, and all those who fought so hard for this legislation. It truly was an incredible team who moved this issue forward. I am certain we will build on this effort, carry that momentum and pass this law next session."