If Indiana state Rep. Jim Lucas had his way, journalists would be required to register with state police in order to report the news.
Lucas, a Republican who has represented Indiana House District 69 since 2012, has officially drafted a bill that would require journalists to become licensed by registering with Indiana State Police, prior to entering their field. According to The Indianapolis Star, “Journalists would be fingerprinted as part of the process and would have to pay a $75 fee for a lifetime license.”
Anyone with a record of domestic battery or felony convictions would be barred from receiving a permit. The Star noted that the draft is essentially identical to the state’s handgun permit laws. In an interview with ThinkProgress on Friday, Lucas noted that he had drafted it that way intentionally.
“If you’re okay licensing my Second Amendment right, what’s wrong with licensing your First Amendment right?” Lucas asked in a statement to the Star. “If I was as irresponsible with my handgun as the media has been with their keyboard, I’d probably be in jail.”
Speaking with ThinkProgress, Lucas insisted that his bill — which he said was ready to be introduced if need be — held other sectors of society to the same standards as pro-gun advocates. “It’s surprising the hypocrisy [this bill] has exposed…all the way around,” he said, referring to the backlash it had received.
Lucas’ comments echo President Trump’s aggressive rhetoric regarding the press and media in general, to which he often refers as “fake news.” Lucas, for his part, has boasted that his bill could set a precedent for the president himself.
“I’m a year ahead of President Trump on this,” he said.
The effort may not go very far, as Lucas has admitted he may never introduce the bill — largely seen as a political maneuver meant to stir up controversy, rather than real policy — on the state House floor. “It depends on you guys. It depends on how egregious and irresponsible you are between now and then,” he said in a statement to the Star.
When pressed by ThinkProgress on that comment, Lucas clarified, “It depends on if I see the media continue to distort things. …Turnabout is fair play.”
Lucas has a long history of making over-the-top statements and generating controversy. A staunch proponent of gun rights, Lucas wrote a fiery op-ed in 2014 criticizing gun control efforts and praising the NRA. “Laws can do only a few things,” he wrote. “Foremost, they work only for those who obey them. Second, they can make ‘criminals’ out of peaceful people who do no harm.”
As the Star noted, Lucas has also routinely found himself in hot water over social media gaffes, including an incident in December 2016 in which he posted a Facebook meme that featured a woman in a car trunk. “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 meme read. Lucas later apologized and said he “guarantee[d] that’s not going to happen again.”
In January, Lucas was forced to answer once again for a separate meme he had posted just one day after the Women’s March on Washington. The meme featured a female protester being sprayed directly in the face with pepper spray and was captioned, “Participation trophies now in liquid form.” Lucas captioned the post, “Today’s giggle….”
Lucas’ latest move, drafting legislation targeting the press, has drawn similar condemnation.
“Every so often legislators try to introduce these types of bills as attention-grabbing stunts,” Andrew Seaman, ethics committee chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists, told the Star this week. “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.”
In a statement to the outlet, Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, added, “The obvious problem is that it means the government gets to decide who gets to practice journalism.”
The maneuver comes amid escalating tensions between the media and President Trump, who sees the free press as more of an annoyance than an crucial arm of society. Specifically, Trump has come under fire in recent days for criticizing journalists and news outlets who he claims “write whatever they want.”
“It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “I mean, I’ve seen tremendously dishonest press. It’s not even a question of distortion. …And then they have their sources that don’t exist.”
He added that “the press should speak more honestly.”
On Wednesday evening, Trump doubled down, suggesting that news outlets who were critical of him should have their “licenses” revoked. (Media outlets are not required carry licenses in order to report the news.)
Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2017
“Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked,” he tweeted. “Not fair to public!”
On that count, Lucas seemed to agree, telling ThinkProgress on Friday, “If people feel pulling a license [is necessary], then…the door is open to that.”
This article has been updated with comments from Indiana state Rep. Jim Lucas.