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Free Flow of Information Act becomes law

The Texas Free Flow of Information Act, TAB's top legislative priority for the 81st Texas Legislature, is now law.

Texas Governor Rick Perry signed HB 670 by Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio on May 13.

The law, which takes immediate effect, is the culmination of a four-year effort to pass the journalist/source protection led by TAB, the Texas Daily Newspaper Association and Texas Press Association.

The Texas Senate passed HB 670 by a vote of 31-0 on April 28.

Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, successfully fended off a negative amendment to the bill by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

The amendment would have required a disclaimer on stories containing confidential sources. 

Williams eventually pulled his amendment down prior to the final vote.  

Ellis and Duncan also carried a Texas Free Flow of Information Act in the Senate in 2005 and 2007. Ellis-Duncan-Williams

The bill had to make one final trip to the House where the lower chamber concurred on the Senate amendments by a 146-0 floor vote on April 30.

"Broadcasters should thank House and Senate lawmakers for voting ?Yes' on HB 670 the next time they see or talk to them," said TAB's Michael Schneider.

"That's especially true for San Antonio, Houston, Lubbock and Corpus Christi newsrooms." 

House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, was a key factor in the bill's passage this year.

Hunter personally managed the 13-hour discussion between media representatives and prosecutors that led to the compromise bill language.

TAB Board members Laura Lee Prather, of Associate Member law firm Sedgwick Detert Moran and Arnold; Paul Watler of Associate Member law firm Jackson Walker and longtime TAB legislative advisor, retired Sen. Don Adams, comprised the legal team representing media forces in the negotiation.

Prosecutors had fought against any shield bill, but dropped their opposition after the compromise.

Another key component in the bill's passage is the financial contributions towards the extensive legal costs of negotiation.

Belo, Cox, Hearst and ABC/Disney corporations all contributed financially or donated in-kind services towards the effort.

HB 670 creates a qualified journalist/source privilege and protections for journalist work product.

The act also provides a framework and balancing standard so judges can decide whether a subpoena is sufficiently narrow and necessary.

Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia now have such protection on the books and at least three other states are also looking to pass a FFOIA this year - Kansas, Massachusetts and Wisconsin.  

TAB has worked for adoption of a shield law in Texas since 1990.

Marty Haag, the late former news director at WFAA-TV Dallas-Fort Worth, headed a TAB task force that year that recommended the association begin lobbying for a shield law.

More information

Caption: Sens. Ellis (center) and Duncan (right) are all smiles with Sen. Williams (left) after 31-0 floor vote for HB 670. Photo courtesy of Senate Media Services. 

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