Bill filed to protect First Amendment rights

Legislators filed a bill to protect one of our rights they believe is not being protected uniformly.

“It really is to protect the rights guaranteed to all of us by the First Amendment, to keep the autonomy of the press and to allow stories that otherwise would not come to light the opportunity to see the light of day,” said Rep. Timothy Jones (R-St. Louis) who filed House Bill 774, the Free Flow of Information Act, on Feb. 7. The bill gives members of the media a qualified privilege from having to disclose their confidential sources.

“It is a qualified privilege, meaning if a reporter or any member of the media is asked to disclose a source they can invoke the privilege and then the person seeking the source would have to go to court, file a motion and show good cause as to why they need to have that source disclosed,” Jones said.

Currently, 31 states and the District of Columbia have similar statutes. And according to Jones, Missouri has had court cases that have recognized the privilege from time to time, but not always in the same way.

“Different courts do different things that are applying the law differently. But there is no statute on the point yet,” Jones said. “Which is why Senator Crowell in the Senate and myself in the House have decided to go ahead and try to codify what the courts are doing around the state in practice.”

Sen. Jason Crowell (R-Cape Girardeau) filed his version as Senate Bill 307.

Currently, the House bill has 20 co-sponsors, including Speaker of the House Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill). And there has yet to be real opposition to the bill. However, Jones feels there may be a little hesitation by some to pass it.

“I think because of the subject matter it takes some people a little bit of time to understand what we are doing and why we are doing it,” Jones said. “But I’m hoping that with the bipartisan support we have on the bill, including the Speaker and several other members of leadership, that the rest of the caucuses on both sides will understand why we are doing it.”

Currently, the bill has not been assigned to a committee. But Jones believes it will not take long to make it to committee.