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Lawmakers Considering A Shield Law For Journalists

Wyoming Legislature

The Wyoming House Judiciary Committee voted to table a bill that would protect journalists from disclosing anonymous sources and privileged information by court order. The committee will continue working on the bill with some clarifying amendments.Right now, Wyoming is one of two states without a shield law, which protects journalists from being ordered by the courts to reveal their anonymous sources or privileged information.

Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee argued on Thursday that the bill does not well define the scope of what is protected and who is considered a journalist.

Committee Chair Jared Olsen said he wants the bill to be especially clear about what exemptions to the law would be, rather than letting court cases set precedent.

"If the bill that you have in front of us has no clear path for the government's exception, then are you comfortable with allowing the possibility that at some point?" he posed to the committee members. "The court may write its own exception, like it did in Pennsylvania. Do you want that to happen? Or do you want to frame the exception now through the legislative process?"

Journalists in the state spoke in favor of the bill because such protections are essential to secure sources when they're fearful of having their identities revealed. Casper Star Tribune Editor Josh Wolfson said journalism provides necessary accountability.

"Wyoming is a state that appreciates checks on government power. We as journalists provide one of those checks," Wolfson said. "That's why our profession is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. If you support transparency, if you support holding government accountable, backing a shield level will further those aims.

The committee will be crafting amendments to the bill over the weekend and will resume discussion about the measure next week.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at cwheel11@uwyo.edu.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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