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An ‘unprecedented flood’ of book bans engulfs U.S. school districts, PEN report says



WASHINGTON — More than 1,600 book titles across 32 states were banned from public schools during the 2021-22 school year, with the bulk of the ban requests coming from a handful of right-wing groups pushing for censorship of books that feature LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color, a new report issued Monday said.

“What I want to be really clear about is the books are a pretext,” Ashley Hope Pérez, an author of a banned book, said. “(Book banning) is a proxy war on students who share the marginalized identities of the authors and characters in the books under attack.”

In 2015, Pérez wrote “Out of Darkness,” a young adult romance about a Mexican American girl and an African American boy set in the 1930s, but the book was banned from school districts last year.

The states with the most incidents of banning are Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, according to an updated report released Monday by PEN America, a group that is dedicated to fighting book bans and advocates for the First Amendment. Overall, there were 2,532 incidents of banning across the United States.

“[T]he scope of such censorship has expanded drastically and in unprecedented fashion since the beginning of the 2021–22 school year,” the report found.

In total, there are 1,648 unique book titles that were banned in 2021-2022. PEN previously published a report in April that found 1,586 instances of individual books banned, affecting 1,145 titles, in 86 school districts across 26 states.

Groups demand bans

The new report found that 50 groups at the state, national and local levels, with as many as 300 chapters, “have played a role in at least half of the book bans enacted across the country during the 2021–22 school year.” Of those groups, 73% were formed in 2021, according to the report.

“Those who advocate on this issue are within their rights, their freedom of assembly, mobilization, using their voices, and that’s perfectly appropriate,” Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America, said during a press briefing with reporters Monday.

“But when the end goal is censorship, as a free expression organization, it’s our obligation to call that out and to point out that even the use of legitimate tactics of expression can sometimes lead to a spurious and speech-defeating result,” she said.

According to the PEN report, some states with book bans include Idaho, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, Minnesota and New Jersey, among others.

“The unprecedented flood of book bans in the 2021–22 school year reflects the increasing organization of groups involved in advocating for such bans, the increased involvement of state officials in book-banning debates, and the introduction of new laws and policies,” according to the report.

“More often than not, current challenges to books originate not from concerned parents acting individually but from political and advocacy groups working in concert to achieve the goal of limiting what books students can access and read in public schools.”

Book Ban Week

The report was released in connection with Book Ban Week, an annual campaign by the ​​American Library Association and Amnesty International to celebrate the freedom to read and to push back against censorship.

The ALA also released its own report that found from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 of this year, there were 681 attempts to “ban or restrict library resources, and 1,651 unique titles were targeted.”

Some groups that have challenged school boards include Moms for Liberty, an organization formed in 2021 with strong GOP ties, and local chapters that “target local school board meetings, school board members, administrators, and teachers” to push right-wing policies, as reported by Media Matters. Moms for Liberty has about 200 local chapters across 37 states.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at a Moms for Liberty convention in the summer, where he touted “parental rights” and praised the group for its efforts to get books banned from public schools. In Florida, there are 566 books that are banned, according to the report by PEN.

Republican lawmakers at the state level are also joining the movement to ban books from public schools and libraries.

Nossel said this idea of “parental rights” is “sort of the rubric that gets used to promote these movements.”

She said it’s beneficial for parents to be involved in their children’s education, but “that is not what this is about when parents are mobilized in an orchestrated campaign to intimidate teachers and librarians to dictate (to) them certain books be pulled off shelves even before they’ve been read or reviewed.”

“The trends are very clear that this is a targeted effort,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America and lead writer of the report.

Friedman said that book bans occurred in 138 school districts, representing 5,049 schools, across 32 states. He added that the bans affect nearly 4 million students.

“Overwhelmingly, we are seeing people Google what books have LGBTQ content whatsoever. Even just a book that has an illustration of a same-sex interracial couple gets thrown onto one of these lists and ends up banned in some districts,” he said during the press call.

PEN found that 41%, or 674, of the 1,648 unique titles that were banned addressed LGBTQ+ themes or featured main or secondary characters who are LGBTQ+.

Bans tied to ‘sense of power’

Cheryl Lewis Hudson, an author, and publisher specializing in children’s books celebrating Black culture and Black history said that book bans are about power and are nothing new. She said the trend of book bans is not only censorship but the erasure of marginalized communities.

“We can recall historically that in the United States, enslaved persons were prohibited by law from learning to read or write, and slave masters really understood that this special control of slaves was a sense of power — if you couldn’t control slaves’ bodies, you could control their minds by denying them access (to knowledge),” she said.

Hudson said Jim Crow laws prevented her from accessing public libraries, and she was not able to get her first library card until she was 13. She added that the segregated school she attended did not have a library for students.

“So banned books is not new, nor is the access to knowledge, and the data that PEN is providing reveals really alarming trends in terms of access to ideas,” she said.

She and her husband founded a publishing company that published more than 50 books featuring Black historical figures and culture.

Hudson said the common theme in books that are being banned is not the content of the books but the fact that “the authors of those books are African American, the contributors of those books are from multicultural or non-white backgrounds.”

PEN found that 40%, or 659, of the 1,648 unique titles that were banned had main or secondary characters of color, while 20%, or 338 titles, addressed race and racism.

“So there is a trend and an underlying pattern of white supremacy, really that is challenging the actual existence of people of color in a democracy,” Hudson said.

by Ariana Figueroa, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Former Loudoun County Superintendent Found Guilty



Scott Ziegler Faces Potential Jail Time for Retaliatory Teacher Firing.

A turn of events in Loudoun County as a jury declares Scott Ziegler, the former Loudoun County Superintendent, guilty. Ziegler was charged with a class one misdemeanor, specifically for the retaliatory termination of a school teacher.

The trial, which caught the attention of many, has been the subject of numerous discussions, given the implications it has for school governance and the potential consequences of mismanagement. Facing the weight of the jury’s decision, Ziegler might have to serve up to a year in jail or be liable to pay a fine of $2,500. His fate will be sealed on January 4th, 2024, when the court is scheduled to announce his sentence.

Loudoun County Public Schools and its School Board were unfortunately thrust into the media’s glare nearly two years ago, not for achievements, but controversies. The missteps and oversight from the school’s management resulted in what many believe was an unfair firing of a passionate and devoted school teacher, Erin Brooks. The trial and subsequent guilty verdict have offered a semblance of closure and justice to Brooks and those who supported her.

Attorney General Jason Miyares shared his perspective on the outcome, stating, “Justice has finally been served in Loudoun County. […] Today, my office brought a measure of justice for Erin Brooks.” Miyares further expressed gratitude for the jury’s decision and assured that his office would consistently stand as an advocate for victims, striving for justice and fairness.

The Loudoun County case, with its intricacies and implications, has been a stark reminder of the necessity for transparent and just governance in educational institutions. The outcome serves as a precedent, emphasizing the importance of accountability at every level of the educational system. As the community awaits the sentencing in January, many hope this verdict will pave the way for more equitable and just actions in schools across the country.

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Judge Blocks Parts of New Maryland Gun Law That Goes Into Effect Sunday



ANNAPOLIS, Md. – A federal court judge Friday blocked parts of a new Maryland law that limits areas where gun owners in Maryland are allowed to carry concealed or open-wear firearms just as it was set to go into effect on Sunday.

The Maryland Gun Safety Act of 2023 prevents gun owners from taking firearms into schools, hospitals, government buildings, businesses selling alcohol or cannabis, stadiums, museums, racetracks, and video lottery facilities.

However, in a lawsuit opposing the legislation filed in the U.S. District Court for Maryland, Judge George Levi Russell III issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the provisions pertaining to where alcohol is sold, near public demonstrations, and in private establishments without the owner’s consent. The suit was filed by Susannah Kipke of Pasadena, the wife of Del. Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, and the Maryland Rifle and Pistol Association.

The ruling means that gun owners may continue to carry their weapons in bars, restaurants, demonstrations, and on private property without the owners’ consent as the lawsuit progresses.

“Today’s injunction is a win for public safety in Maryland,” said Senate Minority Leader Steve Hershey, R-Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline and Cecil. “Maryland Democrats continue to pass unconstitutional laws to strip away the rights of law-abiding citizens while trying to pass it off as public safety legislation.”

The portion of the law that was blocked requires business owners to give express permission or a clear and conspicuous sign indicating that firearms are allowed on the property. The injunction reverts back to the previous law, in which businesses would have to state if they ban firearms.

“There needs to be a clear line where guns are and are not allowed in public,” said Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery, who sponsored the law, which began as the bill SB1. “Senate Bill One (The Maryland Gun Safety Act) clearly delineates between the places where firearms are allowed and where firearms are not allowed.”

Waldstreicher referred reporters to the state Attorney General’s Office for comments on the judge’s ruling.

“We are pleased that the court upheld many of SB 1’s common-sense provisions aimed at keeping Marylanders safe from the scourge of gun violence. The Office of the Attorney General will continue to vigorously defend all provisions of SB 1,” said Jennifer Donelan, a spokesperson for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

The remainder of the bill will go into effect as planned on Sunday. Certain individuals are exempt from the law, including law enforcement, members of the U.S. Armed Forces, an employee of an armored car company, or a person who has retired as a law enforcement official in good standing from a law enforcement agency.

The bill was prompted by The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen. That ruling rendered Maryland’s previous concealed carry law unconstitutional.

The court’s 6-3 decision in Bruen overturned a New York gun law requiring “proper cause” to obtain a license to carry concealed weapons in public places, declaring it unconstitutional.

Waldstreicher’s bill was written to fit the restraints outlined in the Bruen decision and is part of Gov. Wes Moore’s “all-of-the-above” approach to public safety, he said.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen really weakened what was a strong concealed-carry permitting law in Maryland,” said Ellen Ginsberg, a volunteer state legislative lead for the Moms Demand Action Maryland. “This is a really important step to make sure that Marylanders and families in Maryland have places where they can meet and gather without the risk of a firearm changing their lives forever.”

Opponents consistently questioned the constitutionality of the law, saying it failed to meet the standards in the Bruen decision.

“The bill will do little to curb the rate of violent crime in Maryland,” said House Republicans in a letter to Moore. “The members of our Caucus are willing partners in making Maryland safer. Senate Bill 1 is not the way.”

Opponents of SB1 often cite the proliferation of illegal guns as an argument against The Maryland Gun Safety Act, arguing that it only makes it harder for legal gun owners to defend themselves.

“In my humble opinion, I just think that when we were thinking about illegal guns on the streets, I’m not sure that this was the best posture to move in,” said Sen. Cory V. McCray, D-Baltimore City, one of three Senate Democrats who voted against the bill.

Gun ownership is a heavily regulated space, and legal gun owners with a significant amount of training are not the immediate problem, according to McCray.

Waldstreicher responded that tackling the issue of illegal guns is not hindered by the Maryland Gun Safety Act.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Waldstreicher. “We can both respond to Bruen in a constitutional and responsible way, as well as pass legislation and policies to get illegal guns off our streets.”

From 2011 to 2020, the rate of gun deaths increased by 46% in Maryland, compared to 33% nationwide, according to Everytown For Gun Safety.

Waldstreicher said he’s not done tinkering with the state’s gun laws, given the tragic statistics, and he is already looking toward the next legislative session in January.

“There are a series of next steps that involve earlier youth intervention, cracking down on illegal weapons entering our community from other states,” said Waldstreicher, “enforcing against ghost guns as well as gun manufacturer liability.”


Capital News Service

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Maryland Lawmakers Push to Designate the Chesapeake Bay as a National Recreation Area



WASHINGTON – The Chesapeake Bay could see a boost in status under legislation introduced this summer to designate the region as a National Recreation Area.

Sponsored by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, and Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland, the Chesapeake National Recreation Area Act would allow the National Park Service to bring into its network sites in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which covers over 60,000 square miles across six states and Washington, D.C. Sites would be included either through donations or purchases, but the new designation would not affect the rights of other property owners along the watershed.

“We know that the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure, and it’s a global treasure,” Van Hollen said in an interview with Capital News Service. “We believe that by including this national treasure within the National Park Service system, we will ensure that it is protected in the future.”

Efforts to establish a Chesapeake National Recreation Area date back to the 2000s, when a study called for the bay to become a unit of the National Park Service. This year’s legislation also comes amid attempts to mitigate the declining health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and efforts to highlight lesser-known parts of bay history, including the contributions of Native Americans and Black watermen to the ecosystem and economy.

The bill was created through a “unique process,” Van Hollen said. In 2021, in a practice uncommon among most lawmakers, he and Sarbanes created a working group to solicit feedback on what the legislation should look like.

The bill is currently in committee, but Van Hollen said a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers is “determined to get it over the finish line” by the end of this congressional session.

Currently, the park service administers certain sites in the watershed, including those designated as national monument units. The Chesapeake Gateways program, established through federal legislation in 1998, allows the park service to partner with and provide assistance to local and regional organizations involved in the bay.

But lawmakers are calling for the park service to play a larger and more administrative role, especially as they strive to tell previously untold stories about the watershed’s inhabitants.

“Right now, there’s no entity whose mission is to help tell the stories of the Chesapeake Bay,” Van Hollen said. “If you look at the Chesapeake Bay, in many ways, its history is a microcosm of our American history… so there are all sorts of stories.”

For Maryland residents like Vincent Leggett, whose families have been involved in those stories for generations as avid fishermen, shipbuilders, and dockworkers, the bill offers the promise of highlighting history that’s previously been passed over.

Leggett is a member of Blacks of the Chesapeake — an organization that aims to highlight Black history in the watershed — which was part of the working group for the bill.

“African Americans, I feel, were the backbone to the maritime and seafood industries here in the Chesapeake Bay region, but our stories were not elevated, nor were they exposed through our own voices,” Leggett said.

Leggett hopes that expanding the reach of the park service in the region will also draw these populations into bay conservation. Only 7% of the state’s bay shoreline is publicly accessible, he said, causing a “sense of alienation” for people of color in the region who can’t get involved in cleanup efforts.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, the main entity responsible for the conservation and restoration of the bay, there are 1,296 public access points to the body of water across its six watershed states and Washington, D.C.

The bill, if passed, would authorize the park service to administer additional landmarks in the Chesapeake Bay watershed — a step Van Hollen said would further improve public access to the bay.

Blacks of the Chesapeake has worked with state and federal lawmakers in Maryland on several projects along the bay, Leggett said, including planning a heritage park at the historically-Black Elktonia Beach in Annapolis and ensuring that Black history is highlighted at Whitehall Manor, which was built by enslaved individuals. Some of these sites, if acquired by the park service, could become highlights of a Chesapeake National Recreation Area.

The bill’s sponsors also touted the legislation as an opportunity to create jobs and enhance Maryland’s economy.

“By designating a unified National Recreation Area for the Chesapeake Bay, this legislation seeks to elevate the regional stories that shaped our nation’s history, promote the spirit of stewardship, improve public access, and spur economic growth across the bay region,” Sarbanes said in an e-mail to CNS.

The lawmakers have projected that turning the watershed into a park service unit will boost tourism in the region, augmenting its already major role in the Bay states’ economies. In Maryland, recreational boating generates an average of $2.03 billion and 32,025 jobs each year, and wildlife-watching excursions generate over $600 million a year, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Leggett said that the bill is an opportunity to foster these industries while increasing awareness of the bay’s integral role in the region.

“I think that by bringing more attention to the Chesapeake Bay… it just generates so many millions of dollars and employment opportunities and tourism,” he said. “I think that as we endeavor to improve the water quality of the bay, that is going to enhance the fisheries, it is going to enhance heritage tourism and all of the related businesses that surround it.”

Capital News Service

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Kaine Warns 80K Childcare Spots Could Be Lost in Virginia If Federal Grant Program Expires



WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday to extend funding for five years for a pandemic-era childcare subsidy program set to expire at the end of the month.

The legislation would extend the child care stabilization grant program, which Congress established in 2021 to help childcare providers meet additional costs during the pandemic. The bill would provide $16 billion in mandatory funding each year for the next five years.

Congress initially provided $24 billion for the program as part of Democrats’ massive COVID-19 relief bill in 2021.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, joined by congressional colleagues, childcare providers, and advocates, called on Congress to act before this “lifeline” is cut off on Sept. 30, noting its economy-wide impact.

“When I say we need to act more urgently before things get worse — I don’t just mean parents are going to feel the pain or child care workers are going to feel the pain,” Murray said. “I mean, the entire U.S. economy is going to feel this.”

If this childcare funding ends, childcare providers may raise costs or not be able to continue serving families, Murray said, and parents may also be forced to leave their jobs to take care of their kids.

Too many people are forced to choose between their careers and caring for their children, said Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat and ranking member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The bill attracted 35 co-sponsors in the Senate and 78 in the House. All the co-sponsors are Democrats except U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the party.

“Over 3 million kids will be in danger of losing quality child care they have today” if Congress does not take action, said Sanders, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “Over 230,000 childcare workers will be in danger of losing their jobs, and over 70,000 childcare facilities all over America will likely be shut down.”

Sanders said the country’s workforce crisis would only be worsened if childcare relief is cut off.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said about 80,000 children could lose childcare spots in Virginia, while nearly 2,800 early childhood education workers could see layoffs.

“We know if child care is accessible and it’s affordable, parents and our children survive,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the leading Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “So we need to keep up those investments to help parents. That is what our obligation is in this time of difficulty and struggle for people in the economy.”

Without a strong childcare industry, the economy will “cease to function,” DeLauro said.

Cynthia Davis, the founder and CEO of Kings and Queens Childcare Center in Washington, D.C., spoke at the press conference to explain how her business could be affected by a loss of funding.

Davis said that if relief runs out at the end of the month, her business could see layoffs, increased rates, or have to “drop out of the public child care program and start serving private families only.” Or her doors could close permanently, she said.

“This will devastate low-income and single-parent households and parents experiencing homelessness who hope to enroll their children in my program,” Davis said. “All children, no matter their family’s income level, deserve an equal chance at the start of their lives.”

U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from New Jersey, recalled her experiences as a mother searching for affordable child care for her now 17-year-old daughter.

“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Sherrill said. “That horrible feeling as I tried to find a place that I was comfortable leaving my baby girl and also could afford. And there were times when I paid my entire paycheck towards affording that quality child care.”

This is an issue that disproportionately affects women, said U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a California Democrat.

U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a New York Democrat and former middle school principal, said it is important to recognize the impact of quality child care on the individual lives of children. Without access to quality child care, he said, “children are more likely to be exposed to toxic stress and chronic trauma,” which can affect their brain development.

A disproportionate number of children with trauma are then placed in special education classes, as well as “being caught up in something we call the school-to-prison pipeline,” Bowman said.

“We do not and will not have a healthy democracy, a healthy society, and a healthy human race without investing in child care,” Bowman said.


by Samantha Dietel, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Maryland Gov Moore Says He No Interest in Higher Office; Talks Economy, Public Safety



WASHINGTON  — Gov. Wes Moore fended off questions Tuesday on whether he’ll run in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary during an interview with global news organization Semafor, saying he had no interest in higher office and turning the subject to his nontraditional political background.

“I think it’s really important for people to remember that I am probably the most improbable governor in this country,” Moore said in answer to the first question from Semafor Cofounder and Editor-at-large Steve Clemons. “I’m a person who has never come from a political lineage.”

Moore, an author, nonprofit executive, and former Army officer, had not held political office before winning the governor’s election in 2022.

Moore turned his focus to Maryland, discussing plans to revive the state’s economy through targeted investments in its assets and better serve constituents with a data-driven approach to policy changes.

Moore often defines Maryland as “asset-rich and strategy-poor” and cites the contrast presented by the state’s high concentration of prominent institutions of higher education, military facilities, and government agencies, such as the National Security Agency, with its sluggish economic growth rate of .2% in the past 4 years. The current economic strategy of spreading funding across numerous projects “doesn’t make sense,” he said, explaining he’ll use a more focused approach.

In June, Moore established the Maryland Economic Council, charging it with creating economic recommendations by the next legislative session in January. After the General Assembly passed numerous measures to affect systemic budgetary changes during the last session, a report from the Department of Legislative Services predicted a $418 million structural deficit for fiscal year 2025.

Moore said his administration will use data to drive policy decisions, especially when looking to minimize socioeconomic disparities, and he used environmental injustice in Baltimore as an example.

“You can’t understand what these disparities look like if we aren’t able to fully appreciate the measure of intentionality that very much existed in the creation of that and the lack of intentionality when it comes to how we’re going to address it.”

The administration must consider the root causes of poverty, investing in transit, the public education system, and programs to combat the teacher shortage, Moore said, to jumpstart economic growth.

Creating new opportunities for young people to succeed in different areas will help fight juvenile crime and keep violence out of communities, Moore said. Using data and technology in innovative ways can also help ensure that solutions to crime are predictive rather than reactive.

Increasing public safety is his top priority, Moore said, highlighting the need for “appropriate intensity, absolute integrity, and full accountability” in the policing system as well as a need for crisis intervention teams to shift the response of mental health calls away from police officers. Over $100 million was invested directly in behavioral health, Moore said.

Moore noted that police officers respond to all situations, and many times, they are met with circumstances they cannot fix. He called for change, saying that public safety is partly a matter of creating a better livelihood for people.

Moore said his administration invested $122 million in local law enforcement, $17.5 million of which went to Baltimore City, where the police department has been under a federal agreement to make reforms since 2016. Moore also invested in intelligence sharing through the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center and organized crime units.

In Baltimore, other reform means combating gun trafficking, filling the police shortage with well-trained officers, and developing more intentional solutions, said Moore, who places special importance on these issues as a Baltimore native.

“I love my state, all 24 jurisdictions. But I’m a Baltimorean,” Moore said. “That’s who I am. Can’t understand me if you don’t understand Baltimore.”



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Journalism Educators, Trade Organizations Endorse Bipartisan Federal Shield Law



RICHMOND, Va. — Journalists could have more federal protections if a reintroduced shield law bill can pass Congress this term.

The PRESS Act would protect journalists, including citizen journalists, from federal court-ordered disclosure of information about a source. There are a handful of limitations such as information that could prevent an act of terrorism against the U.S., according to the bill.

The bill would also prevent important data on a reporter’s personal device from being seized without notice. The same would apply to data held by a covered service provider like a telecommunications company.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill have bipartisan support. U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va, is a co-sponsor of the current iteration of the House bill. The House passed the original resolution introduced in 2021, but it failed to advance from a Senate committee. The Senate bill also did not advance last term.

Virginia is one of 10 states without a formal shield law, according to the legal group Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Currently, Virginia courts recognize a reporter’s privilege, meaning the right not to be compelled to testify or disclose sources and information in court. The proposed federal law may provide a model or incentive for a shield law at the state level, according to Mechelle Hankerson, president of the Society of Professional Journalists Virginia Pro Chapter.

“We’re sort of at the mercy of the courts’ whims and interpretations of situations and the First Amendment when we don’t have a shield law,” Hankerson said. “Even though the courts have ruled favorably for us as journalists, there’s no guarantee that that will continue.”

The national SPJ organization has advocated for a federal shield law for the past two decades, Hankerson said. One of the reasons it has been a slow process at both the federal and state levels is because many courts have ruled in favor of protecting journalists, which obscures the need for shield laws.

Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, attempted three times to establish a state shield law. A version that passed in 2020 was amended to apply protections in a criminal proceeding. The bill has specific parameters for the definition of a working journalist that are not found in the PRESS Act, such as that they must belong to a news organization.

“I don’t think that there is anything on the horizon or that has happened super recently in Virginia that makes us feel like we’re in danger if we don’t get a shield law on the books,” Hankerson said. “But it is something, the longer it’s not there, the more vulnerable we are as journalists.”

Protections given by shield laws such as the PRESS Act allow journalists and news organizations to establish trusted relationships with sources, according to Lin Weeks, a senior staff attorney at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The organization provides free counsel and legal resources to journalists to protect First Amendment freedoms and newsgathering rights, according to its website.

“If the government for courts or civil litigants can compel journalists to reveal the subjects of those conversations of their unpublished work product, that undermines journalists’ ability to do their job,” Weeks said.

The PRESS Act would codify some of the guardrails the Department of Justice has in place through its updated news media guidelines, which limit access to journalists’ records.

“With something like the DOJ guidelines, those can be changed without a legislative vote from administration to administration,” Weeks said. “Whereas, the PRESS Act would last through multiple administrations.”

The bill shields both professional and citizen journalists from being forced to disclose their sources by broadly defining a journalist to include any person who regularly gathers or records information with the intention of public dissemination.

Genelle Belmas holds a doctorate in mass communication and is a professor of media law at the University of Kansas. A broad definition is a good thing, Belmas said. Any individual who gathers and organizes information to disseminate it to the public should be protected in the same way as a journalist with a major or local news organization.

“The bigger question, as some people have suggested, is: ‘Are you committing acts of journalism?’” Belmas said.

The First Amendment doesn’t make those distinctions, she said.

A number of trade organizations have endorsed the bill, including the News/Media Alliance, Radio Television Digital News Association, and the National Association of Broadcasters. Two international journalism educator organizations recently announced support.

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication stated the bill “empowers the media to play its essential role as a watchdog holding our government accountable.”

AEJMC and ASJMC announced to their members that they plan to lobby to support the bill.


By Emily Richardson
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

Shenandoah Shores Management Group

St. Luke Community Clinic

Strites Doughnuts

Studio Verde

The Arc of Warren County

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warren County DSS Job Development

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

Front Royal
7:10 am6:53 pm EDT
Feels like: 64°F
Wind: 0mph ESE
Humidity: 84%
Pressure: 30.22"Hg
UV index: 2

Upcoming Events

6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Oct 4 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
11:00 am The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 7 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work showing off their skills. Members of The Blacksmiths’ Guild of the Potomac have set up shop in the forge, located behind[...]
1:00 pm Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
Oct 7 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
New Bluegrass and traditional music jam the first Saturday of each month starting Feb. 4th, from 1pm till 4pm. All levels of playing invited to attend.
11:00 am The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 8 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work showing off their skills. Members of The Blacksmiths’ Guild of the Potomac have set up shop in the forge, located behind[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Oct 11 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
11:00 am The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 14 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work showing off their skills. Members of The Blacksmiths’ Guild of the Potomac have set up shop in the forge, located behind[...]
6:00 pm Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 14 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. Discover our International Dark-Sky Park! Our evenings begin with a half-hour children’s “Junior Astronomer” program, followed by a discussion about the importance of dark skies and light conservation. Then join NASA’s Jet Propulsion[...]
11:00 am The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 15 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work showing off their skills. Members of The Blacksmiths’ Guild of the Potomac have set up shop in the forge, located behind[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Oct 18 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
11:00 am The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 21 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work showing off their skills. Members of The Blacksmiths’ Guild of the Potomac have set up shop in the forge, located behind[...]