Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats decided today not to move a media shield bill directly on the Senate calendar, skipping the normal step of a committee markup, despite growing Democratic frustration over the legislation’s lack of progress in the committee.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a sponsor of the legislation that would make it harder for courts to order reporters to divulge their sources, initially asked that the bill be taken off the committee’s agenda and moved to the floor calendar. But, after discussion, he withdrew the request, saying he would be willing to meet with panel Republicans before the next committee business meeting to discuss GOP concerns about the bill, which has languished in committee since April.
“I haven’t seen a bill like this that has been around so long,” Schumer said at Thursday’s meeting.
Republicans have been skeptical of the legislation’s effect on national security. A substitute amendment adopted during the last committee meeting that addressed some of those issues failed to ease GOP concerns about the bill.
Panel Republicans said they plan to offer more than 20 amendments to the bill, irking Democrats who want to move the bill out of committee before Christmas.
“The fact of the matter is I think it’s not unusual for this committee to work through amendments,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who once chaired the panel.
The committee did take some action on the bill Thursday. Lawmakers adopted, by unanimous consent, an amendment offered by Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona. The amendment would require the Justice Department’s Inspector General to audit the use of the legislation from the time of bill’s enactment to the end of 2012.
But the panel held over a Republican amendment offered by Hatch. The amendment would not prevent courts from obtaining information from journalists who are reporting on cases that involve sex offenses or threats of those crimes.
The work on the journalist shield bill came in the same session that the panel approved two nominations for Justice Department posts and two U.S. Attorneys.
Death Benefits for First Responders. The committee also gave its voice-vote approval legislation that would authorize the use $5 million from the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund to finance death benefits for volunteer and nonprofit first responders and ambulance crew members. The forfeiture fund helps finance state and local law enforcement activities with proceeds from the sale of forfeited assets.