Shield law for reporters heads for governor’s desk

OLYMPIA – A measure that would keep journalists who refuse to reveal confidential sources out of jail is headed to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The state House agreed to Senate changes in the bill on a 94-1 vote Monday. Gregoire’s spokeswoman Holly Armstrong said the governor was expected to sign it.

The main changes the Senate made were to narrow the definition of “news media,” said the bill’s sponsor, House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam.

“It does make sure the people who will be eligible for this privilege are indeed in the business of news media,” Kessler said.

The bill would protect people who are in the business of gathering news, but not bloggers or university professors who do not make a majority of their living doing so.

It grants reporters absolute privilege for protecting confidential sources – the same exemption from testifying in court that is granted to spouses, attorneys, clergy and police officers.

Currently, Washington has no shield law, but its courts have ruled in favor of qualified privilege based on the First Amendment and on common law.

Attorney General Rob McKenna has lobbied for the bill, saying it promotes open government.

“He believes reporter shield laws protect whistle blowers by guaranteeing confidentiality,” his spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said. “Without this protection, those who fear for their livelihoods would be too discouraged to speak up on matters that are important to the public.”

Also on Monday, the House agreed to Senate amendments on these bills, which all now head to the governor:

* On a 94-1 vote, a measure that would prohibit child day care centers from having window blinds with cords that could strangle young children. The measure is House Bill 1256.

* On a 93-2 vote, a measure that requires reporting of hospital-acquired infections in health care facilities. The measure is House Bill 1106.

* On a 61-31 vote, a measure that would outlaw dangerous wild animals as pets. The measure is House Bill 1418.

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