Senate Passes Free Flow of Information Act
HB 670 protects journalists from being forced to testify or disclose confidential sources
(Austin) — The Texas Senate today passed HB 670, the Free Flow of Information Act, legislation by Representative Trey Martinez-Fischer (D-San Antonio), Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) to protect journalists from being forced to testify or disclose confidential sources.
The legislation now returns to the House for final approval and then to Governor Rick Perry for signature. The passage of HB 670 culminates more than four years of work by Ellis and Duncan, and likely completes an effort that first began in 1973, when Texas legislators first attempted to pass a limited privilege to protect the public's right to know.
"This is a truly historic day," said Ellis. "After four years of sometimes intense debate, both the House and the Senate have agreed on the principle that 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-six 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. The United States Congress is also currently debating legislation 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.
"House Bill 670 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."