Counting on Senate and White House support, lawmakers seeking limited court protection of reporters' confidential sources renewed an effort Wednesday to win passage of legislation that failed last year.
The bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee on a voice vote and should pass in the House soon. But the test will come later this year in the Senate, where the bill died last year after then-President George W. Bush threatened a veto.
The Bush administration warned the bill would encourage leaks of classified information.
Chief sponsor Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., said he's confident of passage "with the addition of a substantial number of (Senate) Democrats who I believe will be supportive." Senate supporters could only muster 51 votes last year to get past a filibuster, when 60 were needed.
President Barack Obama was a sponsor of a shield bill as an Illinois senator and presidential candidate.
The House passed a similar bill in 2007 by a 398-21 vote.
The House bill, which would protect confidentiality in most federal court cases, was rewritten this year to meet some of the objections. The revisions enhanced the federal government's ability to obtain information that is needed to protect national security; and investigate and prevent acts of terrorism.
The bill only allows a court to compel a journalist to reveal confidential sources in these circumstances:
_To prevent an act of terrorism against the United States or its allies, prevent significant harm to national security or to identify a perpetrator of a terrorist act.
_To stop an imminent death or significant bodily harm.
_To identify someone who disclosed a trade secret, health information on individuals, or financial information that is confidential under federal laws.
_To identify, in a criminal investigation, someone who disclosed properly classified information that caused or will cause significant harm to national security.
Even if those requirements are met, the party seeking information must establish that the public interest in compelling disclosure outweighs the public interest in gathering or disseminating information.
Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have shield laws.
Boucher said the law is needed, because a reporter's source is "only going to pick up the phone ... if the reporter can promise confidentiality."
An opponent of the bill, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said that "Protecting anonymous sources should never be more important than protecting the American people or solving crimes that can help save lives.
"Unfortunately, this bill raises serious law enforcement and national security concerns."
Smith added that media outlets are lobbying for the bill, even though the media criticizes lobbyists who represent other special interests.
Dozens of news outlets, including The Associated Press, have supported a shield law.
Supporters of media shield legislation have pointed to news reports _ based on confidentiality _ on mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, clandestine CIA prisons and substandard conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was imprisoned for 85 days in 2005 for refusing to identify the Bush administration officials who spoke with her about CIA employee Valerie Plame. The public revelation of her name led to the perjury and obstructing justice conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was chief of staff to Dick Cheney when he was vice president.
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