Commentary: UH Professor Gerald Kato “The Endgame of the Shield Law…”

Some thoughts on today.

The endgame for the shield law played itself out in the state Senate and House today after efforts to extend the life of the law failed.

The Senate passed a draft bill authored by Sen. Clayton Hee by a vote of 16-9. But the House hours earlier amended that bill to eliminate changes and extend the life of the shield law by two years. The net result is that there are now two different bills, and that means the bill dies Thursday.

Without legislation extending its life or making it a permanent part of Hawaii statutes, the shield law will sunset June 30, 2013. It will die a victim of Hee’s visceral disdain for the media and the failure of political will in the state Senate.

House leaders Scott Saiki and Cynthia Thielen courageously worked to amend the bill in the House to extend the existing law for two years to give parties time to take a closer look at the issues. The Senate knew of the House action but ignored pleas from shield law supporters to consider an extension amendment to reconcile the bills and keep the existing shield law alive. Instead, Hee pushed through his bill to define journalists and journalism in a narrow way, eliminate protection for non-traditional journalists and digital media publications. Hee’s bill was nothing more than an effort to replace a good law with a zombie of his own creation.

Nine senators stood against Hee’s bill. They were: Laura Thielen, Michelle Kidani, Roslyn Baker, Sam Slom, Russell Ruderman, Les Ihara, Willie Espero, Josh Green, and Clarence Nishihara.

There was a lot of fingerpointing back and forth and scratching of heads by senators about why an amendment to extend the life of the shield law never came up on the floor of the Senate. A lot of unaccountability politics in the kabuki of the Senate.

While it’s true that nothing is ever dead at the Legislature until everyone leaves the building, and maybe not even then, it is unlikely that there will be an extension to the existing shield law.

We’ll have a lot more to say about this in the days to come. But it is a shame that Hee’s antics wins out, and he kills one of the best shield laws in the country. We will have no shield law, but we must continue to have the collective will and desire to defend the First Amendment.

Gerald Kato

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