As Trump slams media, an Indiana lawmaker has drafted a bill to license journalists

An Indiana lawmaker has drafted a bill that would require professional journalists to be licensed by state police.

Rep. Jim Lucas 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 okay licensing my second amendment right, what’s wrong with licensing your first amendment right?” he said.

The proposal comes as President Donald Trump continues to feud with national news outlets such as CNN and NBC.

“Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!” he tweeted Wednesday.

Lucas, a Seymour Republican, 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. A panel of lawmakers is now reviewing the idea ahead of next year’s legislative session.

Lucas, who like Trump has a penchant for stirring controversy over hot-button issues on social media, has posted the front page of a formal preliminary draft  of the bill on Facebook, often garnering supportive remarks from his followers.

Lucas said he originally had the journalism licensing requirement drafted during the last legislative session, but decided then to keep it in reserve.

“I’m a year ahead of President Trump on this,” he said.

He recently brought up the proposal again during an appearance on "No Limits," a local public radio program hosted by John Krull, director of Franklin College’s journalism department and a former leader of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.

The proposal, however, may be more rhetorical than serious. Lucas is coy about whether he actually plans to file it.

"It depends on you guys,” he told IndyStar in June. “It depends on how egregious and irresponsible you are between now and then."

More recently, he said: “Why wouldn't I push for it? If one constitutional right is OK to license, then they all are.”

Traditionally, though, Lucas has been a dogged libertarian who opposes many forms of government licensing and intervention. He once filed a bill to get rid of marriage licenses and plans to offer legislation next year to legalize medical marijuana.

During his recent appearance on Krull’s "No Limits" program, Lucas was asked if there are any weapons he believes should be banned.

“Well,” Lucas said, “some people have said if you can afford it you should be able to have it.”

Asked if that would extend to nuclear or biological weapons, Lucas declined to answer.

“That’s a longer stretch than what we’ve got here in probably 10 seconds,” he said. “I’m going to pause on that one, on people having nuclear weapons in their home.”

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

In December, for example, he posted a Facebook meme 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.

He drew fire again in June after posting a letter he wrote to an IndyStar reporter in response to a story about sexual assault. In the letter, he advocated for arming women, but upset many people who accused him of “victim blaming” for suggesting women learn “how not to be a victim.”

Now, his proposal to license journalists is drawing criticism from free press advocates, who called the measure unconstitutional and expressed concerns about efforts to undermine the media's credibility.

"The obvious problem is that it means the government gets to decide who gets to practice journalism," said Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington D.C.

Even if the proposal is only intended to make an argument, it poses a danger, he said.

“This seems to have become a political issue, but freedom of speech really isn’t a political issue," he said. "When you undermine the press, you’re ultimately preventing people from becoming informed."

Journalists play an important role in exposing government waste and holding public officials accountable, said Steve Key of the Hoosier State Press Association.

He called the Lucas proposal “a clever way to make an argument," but said it poses a threat if it becomes a serious effort to license journalists.

"There is a danger in that if you continue to undermine the institutions and the balances of these institutions that have worked so well for us over the past 200 years, there can be damage that can be difficult to repair," he said.

What bothered him most, he said, was when Lucas said his decision about filing the bill would depend on whether he felt news coverage of his key issue was responsible.

"I hope he’s not serious in his approach that if I’m mad at you, I’m going to file something to hurt you," Key said. "I hope that’s not his real intent. That’s not how the General Assembly is supposed to work."

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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