07.30.08

Leahy Urges Support For Reporters’ Shield Bill As Senate Prepares For Procedural Vote

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, July 30, 2008) – The Senate is scheduled to take a critical vote this morning to decide if the body will proceed to debate on the Free Flow of Information Act, a bill that would establish a qualified federal reporters’ shield law.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee that reported the bipartisan bill in October 2007, spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, urging all Senators to support a full debate on the proposed legislation.  Leahy has been pressing for floor consideration of the bill, and in March, sent a letterto the majority and minority leaders asking that the Senate take up the measure.  A similar measure overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives last year.

Leahy also made remarks about the bill on Tuesday.  The full text of Leahy’s prepared remarks follow.

As I said here on the Senate floor yesterday, I support the Free Flow of Information Act, S. 2035. Senator Specter – the distinguished ranking member of the Judiciary Committee – was exactly right when he said in his remarks last night that “this bill is long past due.”  After months and months of needless delay by the Senate minority, I hope that we will finally be permitted to consider this important legislative effort this morning.

The Senate minority’s delay tactics are certainly nothing new.  Since the beginning of this Congress, we have witnessed all manners of obstructionism by a minority of Republican Senators, using filibuster after filibuster to thwart the will of the majority of the Senate to conduct the business of the American people.  Republican filibusters prevented Senate majorities from passing the climate change bill; the Employee Free Choice Act; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; the D.C. Voting Rights Act; the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007; the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008; the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008; the Consumer-First Energy Act; and most recently, the Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act, to bring much needed relief to poor families who struggle to heat and cool their homes in a time of soaring gas prices.  Republican filibusters blocked the Advancing American’s Priorities Act, which included 35 stalled legislative matters including the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and several bills to help law enforcement cope with mentally ill offenders, and to protect our children from the scourges of drugs, child pornography, and child exploitation. 

This long list of priorities blocked by the minority is even longer if we include the many important bills that President Bush successfully vetoed since the beginning of this Congress.  That list includes legislation to fund stem cell research to fight debilitating and deadly diseases, to extend and expand the successful State Children's Health Insurance Program that would have provided health insurance to more of the millions of American children without it, to set a timetable for bringing American troops home from the disastrous war in Iraq, and to ban waterboarding and help restore America as a beacon for the rule of law. 

The Free Flow of Information Act should not be added to the long list of legislative victims of Republican obstructionism.  It is past time for Senate Republicans to climb down from the barricades and to work with us, to improve the lives of the American people.  Time is running short in this Congress.  It is past time to end the partisan gamesmanship and to make progress. 

That is what I have been trying to do throughout this Congress.  The majority leader has given us a chance to take a significant step in the right direction.  I hope, after 18 months of unnecessary obstruction, all Senators are finally ready to join us in getting our work done.  We have an historic window of opportunity to enact a Federal statutory shield law to protect American’s right to know. 

I thank the majority leader for his willingness to bring this matter before the Senate.  I have worked with him to find an opportunity for Senate action since the Judiciary Committee reported this bill last October and I appreciate his support.  Senator Specter and I wrote to him and the Republican leader in March urging consideration of this bipartisan measure.  Before that, I had written and spoken with the majority leader to request Senate consideration of this legislation. Our bill has 20 Senate cosponsors.  The claim made yesterday by a Republican Senator that this bill is not ready for Senate consideration is simply unfounded.  The Judiciary Committee has been working on a bipartisan basis for the past year to reach consensus on federal shield legislation.  In addition, the Committee held three separate hearings on this bill during the 109th Congress.  I hope that the Republican cosponsors of this bill will join us in moving to the bill and that they will bring along the seven or eight Republicans needed to defeat another minority filibuster and make progress. 

A free and vibrant press is essential to a free society.  That has been demonstrated, again and again over the last eight years.  That is why I cosponsored the Senate version of this bill and I have worked hard to enact a meaningful reporters’ shield law this year.  That is also why I made sure that for the first time ever the Senate Judiciary Committee reported a media shield law to protect the public’s right to know, with a strong, bipartisan 15 to 4 vote. 

I thank the leaders in the Senate who have worked toward a federal reporters’ shield law – Senators Schumer, Specter, Dodd and Lugar, as well as the dozens of media groups that have supported this measure.  All of us – whether Republican, Democrat or Independent – have an interest in enacting a balanced and meaningful shield bill to ensure the free flow of information to the American people.  Forty-nine States and the District of Columbia currently have codified or common law protections for confidential source information.  But, even with these State law protections, the press remains the first stop, rather than the stop of last resort, for our government and private litigants when it comes to seeking information.

Our time to act is now.  Our opportunity to act is now.  As The Washington Times editorialized on July 25, “[a] sound shield law guards not ‘the media’ but something much more vital – the public’s right to know.” I urge all Senators to do the right thing and to end this unnecessary and counterproductive filibuster. 

I ask that support letters that I received from the Newspaper Association of Association and the Vermont Press Association be included in the record at the conclusion of my statement. 

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