GOVERNMENT

Resolution limiting journalists access passes Utah Senate

Feb 15, 2022, 5:43 PM
A security guard walks past the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. ...
FILE: A security guard walks past the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. Senators approved SR 1, a rule change limiting where members of the media can go inside the Capitol, on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. Photo: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Republicans in the Utah State Senate pushed through a rule to change how journalists can get access to Senators inside the Utah State Capitol.

There was no debate before Tuesday’s vote, but senators did talk about the resolution yesterday.

Rule for journalists access about security, sponsor says

Resolution sponsor, Republican Sen. Mike McKell, who represents Utah County, cited security as his primary reason for the rule change.

“Since I’ve served up here, Mr. President, there was a gentleman who actually placed a disassembled AR-15 onto the floor of the rotunda,” said McKell. “We had threats against our capital. This last year, when we came into session, one of the first threats on a U.S. Capitol reported in The Washington Post was our capitol. So I think it’s important that we recognize our security is important.”

This resolution makes it so, now, journalists cannot go in specific areas where they’ve gone before without express permission from a Senate designee. Until this resolution passed, a reporter could approach a lawmaker on the Senate floor after the official business and discussion time finished, for example. The rule now forbids that.

Lawmakers have always had the right to decline any and all interviews. 

Rule approved mostly along party lines

Republican Sen. Jake Anderegg said he’s seen journalists “sulking” in the Capitol.

“But I have witnessed with my own eyes, members of the media sulking into the chamber in here or hiding behind pillars, eavesdropping on conversations all in the name of fair and honest journalism,” said Anderegg. “As opposed to coming to my face and asking me a question, they want to report on something that they overhear as fact, possibly not getting the full context.”

Anderegg accused members of the media of taking pictures of his computer screen while standing behind him.

“I’ve had members of the media standing up behind me to film ‘witnesses’ and our reactions, and then see them ‘testing the light’ but with their phone directed at my computer or something I’m typing to my wife,” he said. “I believe in access, and I believe in access of the press. I think the press does serve a vital role in our democratic process, but I don’t believe in unfettered access.”

Opponents: Rule change brings poor optics

On the other side of the aisle, Democrat Sen. Gene Davis says the optics of this resolution just look bad.

“Because it looks like we’re trying to shut the media out, we’re trying to shut the public out,” said Davis. “As I stated in the committee, one thing we should have done was sit down and figure out those rules of conduct for the media with us.” 

“For an example, what is access and what isn’t? What public space do they have access to, what public space don’t they have?” Davis said. “They probably would have agreed that the restroom would probably be off-limits. That private corridors of this Capitol building were off-limits. I think they would have accepted that.”

Davis was the only senator to disagree about the resolution during yesterday’s floor time. 

The resolution passed the Senate Tuesday, 17 to 5. One Republican, Sen. John Johnson, voted no.

 

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Resolution limiting journalists access passes Utah Senate