Missouri likely to enact a shield law for journalists in 2012

The Missouri legislature will likely pass a shield law for journalists this year, while Kansas lawmakers are unlikely to address legislation regarding probable cause affidavits, two experts told the Kansas City Press Club yesterday.

Jean Maneke, legal counsel for the Missouri Press Association, and Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association spoke to the Press Club at the Trailside Center about journalism issues in Jefferson City and Topeka.

Maneke has been working with legislators to enact a shield law for years, and she said she believes 2012 may bring broad protection for journalists in the state. In one case, an advocacy organization, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), has been subpoenaed for records relating to conversations its members have had with journalists, even if those exchanges are not relevant to ongoing litigation.

She said she thinks more legislation regarding freedom of information could be forthcoming.

“We can’t get judges to impose any kind of penalties (for violating the state’s open records act), because the penalties are severe,” she said. Maneke hopes a revised Sunshine Law would impose smaller fines, as well as the requirement for the government to pay plaintiffs’ legal fees.

Maneke said there is also a chance to revise a law regarding the use of television cameras and social media in courtrooms. One Kansas City TV news media employee complained that some judges won’t allow TV cameras in the courtroom, even as reporters and members of the public tweet about court proceedings.

“We need to acknowledge that people aren’t covering trials just with their notebooks,” Maneke said.

Anstaett said the biggest issue in Topeka is legislation pertaining to the opening of probable cause affidavits, which are currently sealed. If a reporter wanted to see why police intervened in a case, a judge would have to agree to unseal the case.

There is “a whole generation of attorneys that think think probable cause affidavits are private and have to be unsealed by a judge,” he said.

Anstaett said the “atmosphere” in Topeka is not tenable to pushing for such legislation at this point, but many legislators “are still concerned about heavy-handed government.”

Anstaett said he is concerned about parts of the Kansas Constitution that allow government bodies and legislators to be exempt from certain laws, like the Open Meetings Act. He said he thought the KPA could have taken the Brownback administration to court over its refusal to turn over records requested by the Lawrence Journal-World detailing meetings held by a secret tax policy consulting group convened by Gov. Brownback.

The state concluded:

“To the extent that we have any records called for by your request, they are exempt from disclosure pursuant to K.S.A. 45-221(a)(2), (20),” the letter stated.

That part of the Kansas Open Records law provides an exemption to the law that includes, “Notes, preliminary drafts, research data in the process of analysis, unfunded grant proposals, memoranda, recommendations or other records in which opinions are expressed or policies or actions are proposed, except that this exemption shall not apply when such records are publicly cited or identified in an open meeting or in an agenda of an open meeting.”

If not for a lack of money, Anstaett said, the KPA could have pursued the case.

When government meets in secret, it’s “a threat to democracy,” he said.

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