GOVERNMENT

Senate committee approves resolution limiting media access during legislative session

Feb 9, 2022, 8:46 PM | Updated: Feb 15, 2022, 4:53 pm
(The Utah State Capitol, February 9, 2022.  Photo: Paul Nelson)...
(The Utah State Capitol, February 9, 2022. Photo: Paul Nelson)
(The Utah State Capitol, February 9, 2022. Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — After getting a lot of pushback from the local press, a Senate resolution that would limit media access during official senate business passes out of a legislative committee.

Under current Senate rules, a reporter is allowed to approach a lawmaker on the Senate floor after the official business and discussion time is finished. Although, that lawmaker always has the right to decline an interview.  However, Senate Resolution 0001 would require reporters to get permission to be on the senate floor before they could ask any questions.

Pushback over media access

Representatives from many local news outlets came to the Senate Business and Labor Committee meeting to speak out against the resolution. And the discussion did turn into an argument from time to time.  For example, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Michael McKell, R-Spanish Fork, and KUTV News Director Mike Friedrich spoke over each other as they debated it.  Friedrich says the current credentialing process should be enough to vet out who is a journalist and who is not.

“There can be a vetting process that’s done prior to the start of the session to ensure that.  So, wouldn’t that alleviate 98 percent of the issue?” Friedrich asked.

“Right,” McKell responded. “You’re exactly right and we’re all dealing with these rules for two percent of the problem.”

The resolution would also prohibit journalists from standing behind the dais of a committee hearing room without the permission of the committee chair.  KSL NewsRadio News Director Becky Bruce said that would needlessly create more work for reporters and lawmakers, calling it “red tape that doesn’t need to be there.” 

She also said this would create a slippery slope that could cause problems in the future.

“You may grant permission to the camera behind you today, but the next committee may not,” Bruce added.

‘Just simply not true’

Committee Chair Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, reported knowing of only two cases where members of the media disrupted the legislature by constantly moving back and forth during the session. But when that happened, it caused problems, he said. 

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, cited negative experiences with reporters approaching her after meetings and floor time.

“Some [were] very uncomfortable, somewhere they’ve jumped over my intern and somewhere there has been, maybe, some intimidation,” Mayne said.

McKell pushed back on claims that limiting a photographer from standing behind the dais keeps reporters from gathering information to release to the public.  He said reporters are still welcome to reach out to the senators individually. And they can request lawmakers appear at the daily media availability appearances.

“One thing that I heard is that we’re going to limit public access, in some way.  That’s just simply not true,” he said.

Others, like Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, agreed, saying lawmakers have actually increased access to legislators by streaming meetings online. In addition, tools like Zoom allow members of the public to participate from far away.

In the end, the resolution passed 7-1, with Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, the lone “nay” vote.  He said the media acts as the eyes and ears for people who can’t attend legislative meetings on their own.

“It’s the individual who is not here who is being given access to us,” Davis said. “It is not the individual that is here, trying to confront us.”

Could it be changed before going to the floor?

The resolution that passed through the committee isn’t the original version, and it may not be the last.  McKell already proposed a substitute version that removed a requirement that journalists follow a dress code before they could get permission to be on the Senate floor.

Even the people who supported the resolution say there needs to be more discussion about how the media can have better access to lawmakers. And McKell said more changes could come before Senators vote on the final version.  

“Anything can be tweaked at any point,” McKell told KSL NewsRadio after the meeting.  “I think we should always have good policy discussions.”

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Senate committee approves resolution limiting media access during legislative session