By BJ Reyes
State Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate's judiciary and labor committee, on Thursday responded to critics who laid the death of Hawaii's news media "shield law" at his feet.
Hawaii's shield law protects journalists from having to disclose confidential sources in court and has been praised nationally for recognizing emerging forms of digital and online media. But it is set to expire June 30 after lawmakers were unable to agree to terms for its extension.
Free-press advocates criticized a “weakened” version of the law that emerged from conference committee last week, calling it worse than having no law at all. Jeff Portnoy, a media attorney with the Hawaii Shield Law Coalition, called the gutted version of the bill an "abomination," and blamed its demise on Hee's disdain and distrust of the media.
The House, in a last-minute move on Tuesday, approved a two-year extension of the current shield law. Senate leadership balked, noting that such a last-minute change went against openness and transparency.
Hee, in a floor speech Thursday, said such criticism from Portnoy and others, “indicts Democracy, and it’s unfortunate.” He noted that the conference draft came after much give and take with House negotiators and was voted out each step of the way.
To some who questioned whether Democracy, itself, was at stake, Hee recited a famous quote about the "ship of Democracy."
"The ship of Democracy has weathered many storms. ...
“Journalism seemed to be quite remarkable before this bill became law and I suspect that Democracy is really not at stake, that the Earth will not swallow us up and that the sky is not going to fall. These are the same kinds of arguments three years ago with the passage of civil unions -- the sky is going to fall. Damn near two and a half decades with the establishment of the hotel room tax -- tourists weren’t going to come, the hotels would be empty. Fact is, I think Grover* got it right: Democracy has weathered many storms."