Chestnut’s bill to protect journalists clears House

Published 5:02 pm Monday, May 6, 2019

On Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill from Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-AL, that would make it a felony to assault a member of the press, providing journalists with the same protections as medical and education professionals.

With its passage in the House, the bill is now headed to the Alabama Senate.

“The First Amendment is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Chestnut said. “We absolutely need credible journalists asking the pertinent questions, writing the stories and shining the light on what is going on in government; otherwise, special interest groups and lobbyists will have a de facto monopoly on the legislative process. I hope this bill will pass and then be picked up in other states; we will send a message that America stands with the free press.”

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The bill passed unanimously, 103-0, but Chestnut said that debate surrounding the legislation was heated at times.

“Some elder lawmakers stepped to the mic and questioned me bringing it,” Chestnut said. “One made a statement that he was not in favor of it for CNN reporters. He seemed serious at first, but I assume he was just being tongue-and-cheek later on. Another told me that I would regret bringing this bill and implied that the press will inevitably write false stories on me.”

An amendment was added to the bill during committee hearings, which states that journalists impeding the work of first responders would not be protected under the bill.

Chestnut is hopeful that the bill will be sent to the appropriate Senate committee this week and then go before the full chamber next week, where it will be carried by Alabama Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro.

“You never can tell what will happen in the Senate, because it is a completely different chamber and dances to the beat of a different drum,” Chestnut said. “If the members truly want it to pass, it will be placed in committee this week or next week. If not, that is a sign that it is not a priority. I cannot imagine this bill not being a priority. Anyone who would impede this bill or vote against it does not believe in the importance of the First Amendment.”