SALT LAKE CITY — A House panel has advanced a measure that would give the majority of Utah lawmakers a five-minute break from reporters right before they debate and vote.
Over opposition from several journalists and some Democrats, the House Rules Committee on Monday advanced a resolution barring reporters from the House of Representatives floor in the five minutes before they are scheduled to meet.
The panel approved the measure in a 6-2 vote, sending it on to the full House.
The proposal from Rep. Jim Dunnigan, HR4, originally sought to block reporters from the chamber floor for 45 minutes before morning and afternoon sessions.
The Taylorsville Republican said some representatives sought the change because reporters sometimes distract them when they are trying to prepare for the day.
The panel on Monday considered shrinking the window to 15 minutes but whittled it to 5 minutes after testimony from journalists who said they rely on the access to make sure they understand complicated bills.
Ben Winslow, a KSTU-Fox 13 reporter, said the rule sends a message that the press and public are not welcome. Even though the move would still allow reporters to enter the floor after sessions, "sometimes when floor time's over, everyone bolts and goes to the next meeting or goes to the caucus or goes to whatever," making it difficult to catch lawmakers, Winslow said.
"It looks like this is an attempt to try and hide from the press," added Brian Schott, managing editor of UtahPolicy.com.
The Utah chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists also opposes such a limit, said McKenzie Romero, a Deseret News reporter who is president of the SPJ chapter.
"Journalists and lawmakers here are working toward the same purpose, and that is serving the public," Romero said. "When access is restricted to lawmakers, that is essentially restricting the public from having access to the people who have been elected to represent them."
Jennifer Napier-Pearce, editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, agreed.1 comment on this story
"Like you, reporters represent a constituency," she told the panel. "We are stand-ins for the public and we ask questions for folks who cannot be here."
Rep. Carol Moss voted against the measure, saying reporters are "unobtrusive" compared to some noisy guests, including families and school groups.
"I think we need to be accessible to them," the Salt Lake City Democrat said.
The proposal would apply to the Utah House, which has 75 members, but not the Senate, which has 29. Senate Chief of Staff Mark Thomas said reporters are permitted to approach senators until sessions begin.