Access to lawmakers at Utah Capitol would be limited under new bill

Journalists have long been allowed to enter the Senate floor to conduct interviews with lawmakers after floor time.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Highway Patrol posts the colors for the start of the 2022 legislative session in the Senate chamber at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

A Republican lawmaker on Tuesday proposed a rules resolution that would limit media access on the Senate floor.

SR1, sponsored by state Sen. Michael McKell, R-Spanish Fork, would require credentialed journalists to get permission from a “Senate media designee” to enter a non-public Senate area to conduct an interview with a lawmaker. Reporters would have to leave the area immediately after the interview, under the resolution.

“With permission of the Senate media designee, news media (may) enter designated, non-public area of the Senate for the purpose of conducting a specific interview the news media shall promptly exit the designated area after completing the specific interview,” the resolution states.

McKell said he introduced the rules resolution for clarity, “so everyone in the room knows what the rules are.”

“We are certainly not hiding from the public in any way,” he said, encouraging journalists to express their concerns of the measure during committee hearings. McKell also defended the resolution, saying it was not out of line with what other states are doing.

The bill on Wednesday was assigned to the Senate Business and Labor Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo.

The proposed rules change would also require news media to get approval from a committee chair to stand behind the dais during a committee meeting. During committee meetings, news photographers and videographers often stand behind the dais to get footage of witnesses testifying about proposed policies.

During a press conference on Wednesday, McKell added that committee rooms are often small and that the proposed rules change would adhere to safety protocols and ensure lawmakers can do their work.

“We have some small committee rooms ... they’re extremely, extremely tight, and sometimes it’s difficult to get through there and we need to be able to do our work and we appreciate you, we want you in the ... committee rooms. There’s no restriction on being in the committee rooms,” McKell told reporters.

In the past, Senate rules allowed credentialed press to enter the Senate chamber after floor time. Journalists entering the Senate floor to conduct interviews with lawmakers after floor time has been a long-standing practice. Reporters are currently able to view the legislative process from the Senate gallery. During this year’s legislative session, Senate leaders have required someone to escort journalists to and from the chamber, including to the Senate president’s office.

During the Senate’s daily press conference on Wednesday, Senate President Stuart Adams said the bill would codify “what we’ve done in the past.”

“I don’t think it’s much different than what we’ve had for a long time. You’re welcome back here. You just have to find a senator to bring you back and be with that Senator,” Adams said. “We want to make sure that we have rules in place to be able to make sure that we all understand what the rule is.”

Other state legislatures in Kansas and Iowa have introduced measures to bar journalists from their Senate floors this year. Journalists covering those statehouses said those changes have prevented them from having direct access to lawmakers, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit that advocates for press freedom.

Jessica Miller contributed reporting to this article.

Correction Feb. 3, 2020: A previous version of this story misstated the chair of the Senate Business and Labor Committee.