Lawmakers revise bill so journalists will be allowed in public spaces

Media, which will still be limited on house floor, advocated for creation of a Capitol Press Corps at Utah statehouse.

The House Rules Committee on Monday unanimously voted in favor of a rules change that would limit media access to lawmakers on the House of Representatives floor.

HR2 would require credentialed journalists to seek approval of the House of Representatives speaker or speaker’s designee before entering the House floor to interview a lawmaker.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, initially sought to require journalists to get the permission of the House of Representatives speaker to enter House committee rooms, which are public spaces. The substitute bill filed on Sunday night and presented to lawmakers on Monday morning strikes that measure.

“I tried to gather some input from the media on this resolution and the resolution is changed based on that medium, some of the input and some of the information they provided and things they pointed out,” Dunnigan said.

The measure is nearly identical to a rules resolution approved by Utah Senate Republicans this month. State Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who sponsored that legislation, previously said the measure would establish clear rules over media access.

Under the house resolution, journalists would still need the permission of a committee chair to stand behind the committee room dais during a meeting. Photographers and videographers often stand behind the podium in committee rooms to capture footage of a lawmaker or witness testifying for or against a bill.

“The permission can be verbal, it could be electronic, it could be thumbs-up,” Dunnigan said. “They just need to have the chairman’s permission so the chairman can still manage the committee.”

Renae Cowley a representative of the Utah Medial Coalition, recommended the creation of a Capitol Press Corps organization that would represent the Capitol Preservation Board, legislative leaders from the House and Senate and reporters.

“We would really like to work with your body on creating a Utah press corps,” Cowley said. “It does offer the media and members of the press the opportunity to be a part of some of the decisions made regarding their practice and their profession.”

Dunnigan said he liked the idea of establishing a Capitol Press Corps group.

“I love the concept of getting some from House and Senate, the media, the Capitol Preservation Board and having dialogue on this,” he said.

Ben Winslow, a FOX13 reporter, said he had “practical concerns” about asking a committee chair if a videographer or photographer could set up their equipment in the middle of a committee meeting.

“Do I stand in the back and jump up and down and raise my hands to try to get attention?” he said. " Obviously, the point of news media access to the committee room or the House floor is to act as the eyes and ears for the public, showing people daily what their elected officials are doing.”

Winslow also advocated for establishing a Capitol Press Corps organization to handle the press credentialing process at the state Capitol and other issues that arise.

Dunnigan’s rules resolution now heads to the House and requires two-thirds approval in that chamber to pass.