House passes bill to ban noncompete contracts for news media

Pointing out that there were no TV news cameras reporting on their actions, Utah House members passed a bill Wednesday that would severely curtail media broadcasters’ use of “non-compete” contracts with their anchors, producers, and reporters.

As has reported previously, major TV and radio stations are not covering HB241’s progress this general session.

And the self-censorship has not gone unnoticed by sponsor Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, and backers of his media non-compete legislation.

The bill is really about freedom of speech and of the press, several bill-backers said before the House voted 64-12 to send it to the Senate.

It’s reception there is uncertain, as is favorable action by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, should it come to his desk.

“Do you see any (TV) cameras here?” asked Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville.

Nope. There was no reporting by TV news on this issue, as has pointed out previously.

And that’s just one reason why it is so important, said Hawkes, Schultz, and others.

Schultz amended his bill Wednesday to say that any broadcast employee making more than $47,500 a year could still be required by his employer to sign a non-compete – which traditionally says the anchor, producer or reporter can’t go to work for a media competitor in the same market for up to a year after leaving his employer.

Schultz’ new bill also gives employers some power over non-competes if a contracted employee is fired for cause.

But aside from those few exemptions, when current noncompetes run out, the bill says TV and radio employees will be free to leave their jobs and go to work immediately with competing news organizations – much to the displeasure of the media bosses, who have threatened to sue the state if the bill becomes law.

The current non-competes are a form of chattel, says House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who spoke at length in an open Tuesday House GOP caucus in favor of the bill.

Schultz said the five major TV stations in Utah have not reported on the bill – but did send their bosses to a House standing committee where they opposed the measure.

Hughes and others say rank-and-file producers and reporters have sent in around 70 emails and text messages in support of the bill – outlining how themselves and their families have been severely harmed financially after they left their media jobs but couldn’t work in the industry for up to a year.

But those reporters have been told by the bosses not to openly support the legislation, nor report on it.