Utah House panel votes to restrict reporters on House floor

FILE - Utah House of Representatives are shown on the floor at the Utah State Capitol Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A committee of lawmakers in Utah’s House of Representatives voted Monday to ban reporters from the House floor five minutes before lawmakers meets there for floor sessions.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, who pushed for the change, said some of his colleagues need a few minutes to prepare for the day without journalists approaching them at their desks for interviews.

The Taylorsville Republican originally sought to ban reporters from the floor 45 minutes before floor sessions start but dropped it to five minutes after objections from news organizations and some lawmakers. His change would still allow journalists to access the area after floor sessions.

The change, which must still be approved by the full House, “has a broader effect of cutting the public out of the Democratic process, flying in the face of transparency and accountability,” according to the Utah chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

“Journalists and lawmakers here are working toward the same purpose and that is serving the public,” the chapter president, McKenzie Romero, said. “When access is restricted to lawmakers that is essentially restricting the public from having access to the people who’ve been elected to represent them.”

Reporters are currently allowed to enter the floor of the House chamber and interview lawmakers before and after the hours-long sessions when lawmakers conduct business on the floor.

During the floor sessions, reporters can interview House representatives in hallways outside the chamber or watch proceedings from an upstairs gallery.

Utah’s Senate has similar rules and reporters sometimes conduct interviews on the Senate floor, but Dunnigan said Monday that the Senate rules are actually more restrictive and do not permit any interviews near the lawmakers’ desks on the floor.

Senate officials did not immediately respond to an email seeking clarification Monday.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, was one of two House lawmakers to vote against the proposal Monday. She said there are all sorts of people on the floor at that time, including lawmakers’ family members and school children touring the building, but reporters are unobtrusive.

“We need to be accessible to them and the public has a right to know,” she said.

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