January 24th, 2007
Update: Federal Shield Law/FOI Reform
By Christine Tatum
An update from Laurie Babinski of Baker & Hostetler in Washington, D.C., SPJ’s legal counsel:
As the new Congress settles in and the picture becomes clearer as to how the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate will deal with the federal shield law and open government legislation, I wanted to give you a brief update on how the relevant bills are shaping up and when they’ll be reintroduced in both chambers.
Federal Shield Law
In the House, Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) are looking to reintroduce the federal shield law legislation in mid-February.
Especially in light of the letter that Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) sent to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last week (and that he announced at the ASNE First Amendment Summit at the National Press Club) in which he noted that he favored a federal shield law but stopped short of endorsing the bill as drafted, we’re uncertain of the details that the new bill will address. We understand they’re dealing with some coverage issues, especially related to bloggers, but we don’t have any other indication of what changes are being made by staff.
We’ll be able to see a draft prior to introduction and address any issues we may have with the changes at that time.
On the Senate side, Sen. Pat Leahy’s (D-Vt.) staff is working with Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Lugar (R-Ind.) and Reps. Boucher and Pence on the reintroduction of the bill.
Dodd and Lugar may wait to see what the House bill looks like before reintroducing a Senate version.
As for the coalition of journalism organizations pressing for a shield law: Various members continue to meet with House and Senate members and their staffs. The plan is to organize a public relations push timed for the reintroduction of the bill that highlights San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams and freelance journalist Josh Wolf.
Both the House and Senate are looking to reintroduce FOIA reform legislation in conjunction with Sunshine Week in mid-March.
Members of the Sunshine in Government Initiative met with Anna Laitin from Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) staff again on Monday to go over the same three provisions we would like to see changed in FOIA reform legislation (ombudsman, attorneys’ fees, and reporting requirements) that we had discussed Jan. 9 with Lydia Grigsby and Reed O’Connor, staff members for Sens. Leahy and Cornyn (R-Tex.), respectively.
Anna made it clear that she was just getting back to dealing with substantive issues after the move, and that the meeting was essentially a reintroduction to the issues for her. Tony Haywood, who was recently appointed to his position with the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives, also attended the meeting as an introduction to FOIA reform, with which he has had little experience.
In the next few weeks, the coalition will start visiting the new members of the subcommittee to educate and start building a relationship with them.
As we begin to do so, if any of you have ties with any of the subcommittee members that would prove useful as we meet with them to show them that FOIA reform will have an effect on their constituents, please contact SPJ National President Christine Tatum. The subcommittee members are as follows:
- Wm. Lacy Clay, Chairman (D-MO, 1st District)
- Paul E. Kanjorski (D-PA, 11th District)
- Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY, 14th District)
- John A. Yarmuth (D-KY, 3rd District)
- Paul W. Hodes (D-NH, 2nd District)
- Michael Turner, Ranking Member (R-OH, 3rd District)
- Chris Cannon (R-UT, 3rd District)
- Bill Sali (R-ID, 1st District)
We’re unsure how the introduction of open government legislation will play out over the next few months. Waxman’s staff is uncertain about how the bill will be reintroduced, most notably whether they’re going to keep the OPEN Government Act intact or attempt to introduce a more expansive reform bill that includes FOIA as a component.
We’ve also heard that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and the new ranking member on Judiciary, may want to reintroduce the OPEN Government Act even though he’s not on Government Reform and Oversight, and that Faster FOIA may be reintroduced as well.
As the details related to the reintroduction of both the federal shield law and OPEN Government bills are available, we’ll be in touch.