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OPINION: Senator Hee vs. the First Amendment

April 5, 2013, 3:56 PM HST
* Updated April 6, 8:22 PM
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State Sen. Clayton Hee seems to have a beef with the media. Or is it the First Amendment?

In February, Hee, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged passage of the embarrassingly unconstitutional Steven Tyler Act, which sought to protect celebrities from their own celebrity-ness by penalizing would-be photo-takers.

Now Hee, a Democrat representing the windward and north shore areas of Oahu, is at it again, this time attempting to gut one of the public’s most important safeguards against corruption: House Bill 622, more commonly known as the “Shield Law.”

When enacted in 2008, HB 622 offered almost total protection for both the sources and notes used by journalists in news-gathering activities. Until now, it has been described as the nation’s most comprehensive media shield.

In its original form, the bill made exceptions in felony and defamation cases when information a journalist held was deemed necessary to the prosecution or defense of a charge or claim, or when journalists had witnessed a crime.

Hee doesn't appear to be a "Freedom of the Press" fan.

Hee doesn’t appear to be a “Freedom of the Press” fan.

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Hawaii’s current attorney general has claimed the law is too vague, and critics want protections for bloggers and online-only media outlets stripped out. Hee obliged, amending the formerly hefty Shield Law into something media advocates have described as a useless ream of paper.

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On Wednesday, before urging his fellow committee members to adopt his amendments to HB 622, Hee handed out images he claimed were physical proof that media outlets can (gasp) make errors.

This of course had nothing to do with the Shield Law itself, other than demonstrating the media could use a little shielding from politicians like Hee.

The committee then approved the amendments (without reading them), with Sens. Sam Slom and Les Ihara voting with reservations. Slom was critical of Hee’s rushed approach to the hearing.

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Hee’s changes could mean that we here at Big Island Now (and others like us) may no longer be protected when gathering information from sources in both government and the private sector.

That’s because after Hee’s meddling, whatever is left of the Shield Law might only protect online news outlets that charge you for the work they do.

Sites like our own may not be protected under Hee's stripped-down version of the Shield Law.

Sites like our own may not be protected under Hee’s stripped-down version of the Shield Law.

Apart from news sites like our own, documentary film makers, bloggers and other non-traditional media could also lose their protections under the law.

This could result in less information for the public, as sources within government and the private sector become reluctant to blow the whistle on corruption for fear of their identities being compromised.

A source recently told us that Hee’s amendments are a really stupid idea.

See you in court, senator?

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