Republican lawmaker wants to protect journalists’ confidential sources

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Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, talks to reporters Monday about his proposal to shield them from having to reveal confidential sources.

DENVER — Predictably, it was one of the least contentious press conferences you’ll ever at the Capitol.

On Monday morning, first-year state Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, explained his first piece of legislation, which aims to strengthen the laws protecting reporters from having to reveal their sources when subpoenaed by a court of law, to a room full of reporters.

“I might be preaching to the choir this morning,” the lawmaker noted. “Your ability to fully accomplish your mission of keeping the public informed often depends on information provided by confidential sources.

“If those sources risk exposure, which could cost them their jobs, they’ll be less likely to come forward.”

Herpin, who won his seat in September’s recall election when he ran unopposed as a successor to former Senate President John Morse, said he decided to focus on Colorado’s media shield law after seeing the case of Fox News Channel reporter Jana Winter.

After Winter reported about a notebook Aurora theater shooter James Holmes mailed to his psychiatrist, Holmes’ defense attorneys tried to force her to reveal her sources.

She’d have faced jail time if not for a ruling by a New York court that she didn’t have to reveal her sources.

“New York’s shield law is one of the best in the country,” Herpin said Monday, outlining Senate Bill 34, which aims to increase the burden of proof for anyone seeking to force a journalist to reveal a confidential source, putting Colorado’s law in line with New York’s.

Right now, the law says that if the information is “directly relevant” to the case, a reporter can be subpoenaed. S.B. 34 requires “clear and convincing evidence.”

State Rep. Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, is sponsoring the legislation in the House.

She and Herpin are optimistic their bill, which is up for its first hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, will have bipartisan support.

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