House adopts journalist shield law proposal

The House early Friday adopted an amendment to a 2015 appropriations bill that would prevent funds from being used to force journalists to reveal their sources.

Rep. Alan Grayson's (D-Fla.) amendment to the 2015 appropriations bill funding the Commerce Department, Justice Department and science programs passed 225-183. Grayson apologized during floor debate around 10:30 p.m. Thursday for considering it so late at night.

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"I regret bringing this up at 10:30 at night. I apologize for that because this is a weighty matter," Grayson said. "I hope that we're not all too tired to deny this question the attention that it deserves."

Grayson said that preventing the federal government from compelling journalists to testify about information or sources would protect the First Amendment.

"At this point under current law, journalists are in a quandary. They realize the need to protect their sources. That right is recognized in 49 states, but it's not codified at the federal level," Grayson said.

"It is completely incongruous to say we have freedom of the press, but the federal government can subpoena your sources and put them and you in prison if you don't comply."

But Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee, said the proposal had not been properly reviewed.

"The authorizers ought to be looking at this. This is not something you put on an appropriations bill at 10:35," Wolf said. "For those reasons, I urge a no vote."

Even Rep. Chaka Fattah (Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee, agreed that Grayson's proposal, while deserving of merit, should not be adopted so late at night with little debate.

"We should provide a shield law," Fattah said. "But I agree with the chairman. We don't want to do it on an appropriations bill 10:30 at night. We want to make sure we're clear about what we're doing."