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Proposed Wyoming shield law advances out of committee

Wyoming State Legislature

Wyoming lawmakers advanced a bill on Wed. Jan. 25 aimed at protecting journalists who protect their sources. The bill would stop courts from compelling a journalist to reveal their confidential sources.

Currently, if a journalist refuses to share their anonymous sources with a court of law in Wyoming, they have to be prepared to go to jail. That's because, by refusing to share their anonymous sources, notes or recordings, the court can hold them in contempt — and the court can throw them in jail to convince them to share.

In the U.S., only two states lack a shield law: Hawaii and Wyoming.

House Bill 91 would change that, declaring that a journalist's news gathering materials are privileged. Under the bill, a journalist would not have to share the name of an anonymous source, unless there's a risk of death, serious bodily harm or defamation.

Wyoming Tribune Eagle Editor Brian Martin testified in favor of the bill during a House Minerals, Business and Economic Development meeting. He said journalists only use anonymous sources as a last resort — but sometimes that's necessary to expose wrongdoing in government or business.

"Some of these individuals are willing to risk their jobs, their ability to support their families and their careers in order to expose injustice or corruption," Martin said. "Others couldn't afford to take that risk. So they asked for a promise for me and a reporter to keep their identity a secret."

Martin said he has felt confident in promising this confidentiality to sources in the past.

"However, I no longer feel like I can guarantee that that would be the case," he told the committee. "More and more often, reporters are being subpoenaed and asked to reveal their sources, as well as to turn over their notes from interviews with these types of sources. And yes, it doesn't happen all the time in Wyoming, but it has happened here in the past."

A similar bill was proposed in 2021; it made it all the way through the house but died in a Senate committee. There was no public testimony opposed to this year's shield law bill during the House minerals committee meeting Wednesday.

The committee advanced the bill with an 8-1 vote. It now heads to the House floor for further debate and must pass three readings before it can head to the Senate.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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