Tuesday , February 27, 2018 - 4:30 AM1 comment
When you ban journalists from the floor of the Utah House, you’re not just cutting off the media — you’re avoiding the public.
But that doesn’t matter to Rep. Jim Dunnigan or the House Rules Committee.
Dunnigan sponsored a resolution clearing journalists from the House floor five minutes ahead of a scheduled session, and the rules committee approved it Monday, 6-2.
Dunnigan, a Taylorsville Republican, said representatives needed some quiet time to prepare for work.
Work. As in passing laws that affects the lives of 3 million Utahns.
Often that legislation is confusing. Sometimes it’s controversial. People need insight to understand what’s at stake.
When they do, journalists act on their behalf.
Dunnigan’s bill sends the message that lawmakers can’t be bothered. The public can wait.
Originally, Dunnigan wanted to ban journalists from the floor 45 minutes prior to the start of a session. Then, under pressure from lawmakers, he reduced it to 15. Then to five.
The amount of time doesn’t matter. Whenever lawmakers shield themselves from the public, even for five minutes a day, it tilts the balance of power toward those with money and access.
House Resolution 4 cuts the public out of the democratic process, according to the Society of Professional Journalists, Utah Headliners Chapter.
"Journalists and lawmakers here are working toward the same purpose and that is serving the public," the chapter’s president, McKenzie Romero, testified Monday. "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."
Bryan Schott, managing editor of UtahPolicy.com, objected to HR 4 for a slightly different reason.
“The first question I ask is what are you trying to hide? This looks like an attempt to hide from the press,” Schott testified.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss voted against the resolution. She pointed out that the floor is filled with people prior to a session, everyone from schoolchildren to family members. Journalists don’t get in the way, said Moss, a Salt Lake City Democrat.
No, they act on behalf of the public. And the last thing we should do is restrict the public’s access to Utah lawmakers.
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