South Carolina bill would require journalists to register with state

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A South Carolina lawmaker has proposed legislation that would require all journalists who wish to work for a news outlet in the state to sign up for a "responsible journalism registry."

According to a summary of the bill, which was introduced Tuesday, the registry would include requirements that all South Carolina journalists must meet. Fees could be charged to be listed in the registry, which would be operated by the Secretary of State's Office. The bill also would authorize "fines and criminal penalties" for violating the law.

Republican State Rep. Mike Pitts, who sponsored the bill, told the Post and Courier newspaper that the legislation is linked to press coverage of gun issues.

"It strikes me as ironic that the first question is constitutionality from a press that has no problem demonizing firearms," Pitts said. "With this statement I'm talking primarily about printed press and TV. The TV stations, the six o'clock news and the printed press has no qualms demonizing gun owners and gun ownership."

The bill, which has been referred to a committee for a debate, has virtually no chance of advancing, according to the Post and Courier. It comes days after a Democratic state representative proposed a bill making it harder for men to get access to erectile dysfunction drugs. The legislator, Mia McLeod, said the bill was intended to send a message about laws governing women's health and access to abortion.

Pitts, a former law enforcement officer, opposed an ultimately successful push last summer to remove the Confederate Flag from South Carolina's Statehouse grounds following the murders of nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, said he'd lobby hard against the measure, which he said he found bizarre.

"Any registration of journalists would be unconstitutional — unless you lived in Cuba or North Korea," Rogers told The Associated Press.

Ashley Landess of the South Carolina Policy Council, whose online publication The Nerve frequently posts stories critical of state agencies and lawmakers, said she feels the measure is likely aimed at publications like hers but would affect all working journalists.

"I hope that this insane attempt at shutting up any hint of criticism finally wakes everyone up to how dangerous and how out of control our legislators are," Landess said. "The fact a lawmaker in this country thinks nothing of proposing a law to set standards for what reporters are allowed to write — are you kidding me?"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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