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Bill would require S.C. journalists to register with government

Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, makes a point as he speaks on the floor of the South Carolina House during debate over a Senate bill calling for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from the statehouse grounds Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in Columbia, S.C.


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina journalists would be required to register with the government before reporting the state's news under a bill introduced Tuesday by a Republican state lawmaker who linked his proposal to press coverage of gun issues.

The bill would establish a "responsible journalism registry" with requirements that journalists must meet before working for a news outlet in the state. Those requirements weren't laid out in the bill's summary, which was available online Tuesday. The measure's full text has not yet been posted.

Fees could be charged to be listed in the registry, which would be operated by the Secretary of State's Office. The bill also would authorize "fines and criminal penalties" for violating the law.

The bill has been referred to a committee for debate.

Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the proposal.

Pitts told The Post and Courier newspaper that the bill is not a reaction to any particular news story but was intended to stimulate discussion over how he sees gun issues being reported.

"It strikes me as ironic that the first question is constitutionality from a press that has no problem demonizing firearms," Pitts said. "With this statement I'm talking primarily about printed press and TV. The TV stations, the six o'clock news and the printed press has no qualms demonizing gun owners and gun ownership."

Last summer, the former law enforcement officer opposed an ultimately successful push to remove the Confederate Flag from South Carolina's Statehouse grounds following the slayings of nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME in Charleston.

Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, said he'd lobby hard against the measure, which he said he found bizarre.

"Any registration of journalists would be unconstitutional - unless you lived in Cuba or North Korea," Rogers told The Associated Press.

Ashley Landess of the South Carolina Policy Council, whose online publication The Nerve frequently posts stories critical of state agencies and lawmakers, said she feels the measure is likely aimed at publications like hers but would affect all working journalists.

"I hope that this insane attempt at shutting up any hint of criticism finally wakes everyone up to how dangerous and how out of control our legislators are," Landess said. "The fact a lawmaker in this country thinks nothing of proposing a law to set standards for what reporters are allowed to write - are you kidding me?"