Kentucky Shield Law: If not the first, it was certainly among them

Last week, press associations received a request from the Virginia Press Association. “We have a legislator wanting to get a Shield Law for Virginia. If you have one, please send me the information.”

As usual, we were able to respond to that request because Kentucky has a Shield Law. It’s not something that happened recently either because the current law on the books uses June, 1956, as the day KRS 421.100 took effect. That means it hasn’t been changed since then; the language has remained the same some 65 years.

Here’s the current language in the short statute:

421.100 Newspaper, radio or television broadcasting station personnel need not disclose source of information

No person shall be compelled to disclose in any legal proceeding or trial before any court, or before any grand or petit jury, or before the presiding officer of any tribunal, or his agent or agents, or before the General Assembly, or any committee thereof, or before any city or county legislative body, or any committee thereof, or elsewhere, the source of any information procured or obtained by him, and published in a newspaper or by a radio or television broadcasting station by which he is engaged or employed, or with which he is connected.

HISTORY: 1952 c 121, eff. 6-19-52; 1942 c 208, § 1; KS 1649d-1


And to be able to share an existing law isn’t new at all. We get requests all the time from around the country about language in the Open Meetings Law on how to handle ‘serial meetings’ for instance. Those are the meetings that involve less than a quorum of an agency’s governing body but by the end the meetings end, a clear quorum has been involved. Recently, I learned some states refer to those as “rolling quorums” but serial meetings I think describe them better. And to those requesting the language, I can tell them we addressed that 25 years ago, in 1992. There are some examples for Open Records as well and again, the response is, “We addressed that in 1992 when the rewrote the Open Meetings and Open Records laws.

Back to the Shield Law. I’m willing to bet very, very few of you are aware there’s a Shield Law. It came up last week with a question from John Nelson, who is researching background information for writing a book that will help celebrate the 150th Anniversary of KPA. He ran across a paper written by Jon Fleischaker and Jeremy Rogers, when both were with Dinsmore & Shohl.

The paper was written for the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press. Here’s a link to the RCFP website with a pdf of the paper Jon and Jeremy authored —

You will note reference to a Shield law in Kentucky since the 1930s so while the current law was enacted in 1952, a Shield Law in Kentucky can be traced back 80 to 85 years. It’s amazing some states are just now catching up or trying to enact such a law. But it should make all of us proud that when it comes to some things — Open Meetings, Open Records, Shield Law — Kentucky has helped set the standard for other states.

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