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Lawmaker drafts bill to license journalists in Indiana

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/13/2017 Tony Cook
Indiana state Rep. Jim Lucas, a Republican from Seymour, Ind., has been in office since 2012 and the state House's assistant majority whip since 2017. © Charlie Nye, The Indianapolis Star Indiana state Rep. Jim Lucas, a Republican from Seymour, Ind., has been in office since 2012 and the state House's assistant majority whip since 2017.

INDIANAPOLIS — A lawmaker in the vice president's home state has drafted a bill that would require state police to license professional journalists.

Rep. Jim Lucas, a Republican from Seymour, Ind., had the measure drawn up earlier this year and said he may file it to drive home a point about his signature issue — gun rights.

“If you’re OK licensing my Second Amendment right, what’s wrong with licensing your First Amendment right?” he said.

His idea isn't new.

The most recent proposal came in January 2016 from a Republican lawmaker in the South Carolina General Assembly, Rep. Mike Pitts of Laurens, S.C. He proposed to create a Responsible Journalism Registry that would allow fines and prison time for any person who works as a journalist without registering, Columbia Journalism Review reported.

Pitts also filed his bill to make a similar point about gun rights.

(South Carolina House Bill 4702 was referred to a state House committee where it never was heard from again. It's now dead, like a lot of other bills in state legislatures across the USA, because the two-year legislative session in which it was filed ended.)

In Indiana, Lucas has been critical of media coverage of his efforts to repeal an Indiana law that requires a permit to carry a handgun. He said reporters, columnists and editorial boards frequently mischaracterize the idea, which is sometimes referred to as "constitutional carry."

“If I was as irresponsible with my handgun as the media has been with their keyboard, I’d probably be in jail,” he said.

His proposal would require professional journalists to submit an application to the Indiana State Police. Journalists would be fingerprinted as part of the process and would have to pay a $75 fee for a lifetime license. Those with felony or domestic battery convictions would be prohibited from getting a license.

The proposal is almost an exact copy of Indiana’s law requiring a license to carry a handgun, which Lucas has tried to repeal unsuccessfully for several years.

"Every so often legislators try to introduce these types of bills as attention-grabbing stunts," said Andrew Seaman, ethics committee chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists. "The truth is that there are already a number of restrictions on the First Amendment. We have libel laws, copyright laws and countless others that rein in the speech and press rights under the First Amendment."

A requirement that puts state police in charge of licensing members of the media could have a chilling effect, said Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington.

"The obvious problem is that it means the government gets to decide who gets to practice journalism," he said. "When you undermine the press, you’re ultimately preventing people from becoming informed."

Lucas' proposal to license journalists is only his latest in a long line of efforts to seek publicity on social media or bring attention to hot-button issues.

Among them: He posted a Facebook meme in December showing a woman in a car trunk with the words: “Wanna know who loves you more your wife or your dog? Lock them both in your trunk and see who’s happy to see you when let them out.”

The post drew condemnation from advocates of domestic-violence victims, and Lucas issued an apology.

Follow Tony Cook on Twitter: @indystartony




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