Walters: Vermont Shield Bill Passes Key House Vote | Off Message
Pin It
Favorite

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Opinion
Walters: Vermont Shield Bill Passes Key House Vote

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 5:55 PM

click to enlarge VTDigger's Mark Johnson interviews Paul Heintz of Seven Days and the Vermont Press Association after Wednesday's House vote on S.96. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • VTDigger's Mark Johnson interviews Paul Heintz of Seven Days and the Vermont Press Association after Wednesday's House vote on S.96.
A bill that would protect reporters from being forced to divulge confidential sources and hand over unpublished work material is one step away from the governor’s desk.

On Wednesday, the Vermont House approved S.96, the “shield bill,” on a lopsided voice vote after minimal debate. The chamber must reaffirm its approval in another vote Thursday, but barring a very unusual event, the bill is on track for final passage.

S.96 had earlier passed the Senate on a unanimous vote. Gov. Phil Scott’s office did not immediately return a call for comment; but during the gubernatorial campaign, Scott expressed support for a shield law with some qualifications — including an exception for cases where information cannot be obtained elsewhere. That exception is included in S.96.

“This is important because it helps journalists protect sources,” commented independent journalist Hilary Niles, a member of a coalition of reporters who advocated for the shield bill in the legislature. “And the better we can protect sources, the better public service journalism we can perform.”

Vermont is one of a handful of states without a shield law. The absence of such protection led to several journalists, including three from Seven Days, being subpoenaed in the sexual assault case against former state senator Norm McAllister.
click to enlarge Rep. Martin LaLonde (D-South Burlington) discusses the shield bill Wednesday on the House floor. - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Rep. Martin LaLonde (D-South Burlington) discusses the shield bill Wednesday on the House floor.
Passage of the shield bill would mark a significant victory for journalists who are making a rare foray into lobbying. There are other issues where state law affects journalism; is there any plan to take on a fresh issue next year?

“Speaking personally, I would like to get back to reporting,” said Paul Heintz, who represented the Vermont Press Association during the legislative process (and serves as political editor at Seven Days). “I don’t think that any of us are looking for reasons to come here and ask for laws to be passed.”

“That said,” Niles interjected, “there are problems with public records administration in Vermont, at both the state level and the municipal level. And while there has not been a formal decision to work on public records law, I can say for myself that that is something that, professionally, I am willing to put time into.”

It’s a certainty that when the legislature reconvenes in 2018, journalists will once again descend on the Statehouse to cover the action. It remains to be seen if some journalists again show up in the role of advocate.

The clear lesson from the shield bill debate: If they don’t speak up on issues affecting their profession, nobody else is likely to do it for them.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Hilary Niles’ name.


Tags: , , , ,

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Pin It
Favorite

About The Author

John Walters

John Walters

Bio:
John Walters is the political columnist for Seven Days. He is a longtime journalist and spent many years as a news anchor and host for public radio stations in Michigan and New Hampshire. He’s the author of Roads Less Traveled: Visionary New England Lives, published by Plaidswede Press.

More by John Walters

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Keep commenting classy! Read our guidelines...

Note: Comments are limited to 300 words.

Latest in Off Message

Social Club

Like Seven Days contests and events? Join the club!

See an example of this newsletter...

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative
newsletters:

All content © 2017 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401
Website powered by Foundation