HB241: Bill would eliminate non-compete agreements in broadcast news

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Photo Supplied by Jeremy Harris
KUTV 2NEWS reporter Jeremy Harris reports on the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. HB241 would affect all broadcasting reporters’ ability to work. (Jeremy Harris)

HB241, a bill proposed this legislative session, would force broadcast news companies to eliminate non-compete agreements.

Non-compete agreements restrict employees from working for any other competing company in the same market for a fixed amount of time after employees leave a company.

Current Utah law allows for these agreements to be written into broadcast reporters’ and producers’ contracts. BYU faculty members are split in their views of the bill.

School of Communications Director Ed Carter opposes the bill.

“I think it’s clearly unconstitutional under the First Amendment because the state is targeting one industry … and there is case law in the Supreme Court that says you can’t really do that,” Carter said. “There is lots of stuff that they could do that would be constitutional if it applied across all industries.”

Carter said he is not necessarily for or against non-compete agreements, but he thinks asking the government to step in and make these strict laws could cause problems for journalists in the future. Carter recently wrote an editorial for The Salt Lake Tribune voicing his opposition to the bill.

BYU communications professor Robert Walz is also against the bill.

“I am in favor of a company’s ability to have non-competes,” Walz said.

Walz worked at KSL television for 15 years under a one-year non-compete agreement.

“That never bothered me,” Walz said. “I fully understand that when I was with KSL television they put a lot of money into promoting me and my name as a reporter … It would not be fair for me to leave and take all of that notoriety that they gave to me and bring it to another company.”

Miles Romney, another communications professor at BYU, is in favor of the bill. Romney said he has signed non-compete agreements in the past as a broadcast reporter and he feels they limit reporters’ ability to choose where they work as well as their ability to find better opportunities for themselves and their families.

“I hated signing,” Romney said. “It just limits you too much.”

Romney said some companies, like Sinclair, are so big that restricting reporters from working with competitors in their market could keep reporters from working in many cities across the U.S.

Jeremy Harris, an Emmy Award-winning KUTV 2NEWS reporter and a BYU alum, agrees with Romney.

“Eliminating non-compete contracts … would give journalists an opportunity to negotiate when it comes time to renew contracts,” Harris said.

Harris is under a non-compete agreement and said when his contract with Channel 2 ends he will have to accept whatever they offer him or move to a new location to continue working.

Harris has been actively tweeting about his support of the bill; Channel 2 is aware of this and told him there would be no repercussions.

However, Harris said Utah stations 5, 13 and 4 were less lenient to his colleagues. Harris said some of his colleagues make only $22,000 a year, about the same as average Subway worker, and are unable to negotiate their salaries because of non-compete agreements.

Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, sponsors the bill and said a non-compete agreement “puts a hardship on employees as they are trying to provide for their families.”

“There’s been a lot of abuses with these things, and that’s been one of my biggest concerns,” Schultz said.

Despite the controversy, the bill has passed the House floor and the Senate first reading. HB241 now awaits the standing committee in the Senate, which will determine the future of the bill.

HB312 has passed through the House and the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee. It must pass on the Senate floor before going to the governor for a signature. (Rachel Andrews)
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