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Resolution limiting press access to the Utah Senate passes committee

Photo of Utah Senate floor from above.
Austen Diamond
The resolution prevents credentialed journalists from accessing the Senate floor and hallways without permission from a ‘media designee’ or senator.

After a contentious hearing Wednesday, a Utah Senate committee approved a resolution, S.R. 1, limiting press access to non-public areas of the Senate.

In order to access those areas — like the Senate floor and hallways — a member of the media would have to get permission from a “media designee.” The resolution also requires journalists to get permission from a committee chair in order to stand behind the dais during a committee meeting.

Right now, journalists with Capitol-issued press credentials can access the Senate floor and certain hallways after the body adjourns without permission. In order to receive a credential, journalists must “represent an established reputable news organization or publication” and complete a background check, according to the 2022 credentialing policy. Credentials can be denied or revoked “for any reason,” including being a security risk or not adhering to professional conduct standards.

“At what point is a journalist, a journalist? And at what point is someone a member of the public who wants to harass and cause problems in public meetings?” said Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton. “Because that is the problem that we're having.”

But McCay also said that doesn’t happen often. Some members of the committee, including Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, agreed.

“We regularly legislate to the exception, not the rule,” Bramble said. “These rules are intended to address the exception, not the rule.”

Many journalists argued that it’s important for them to be able to quickly ask a senator a clarifying question on the floor after they adjourn.

“When the Senate gets this fast paced, there may not be time to jump through those additional hoops to get permission,” said Deseret News reporter Katie McKellar. “Free flow of information is crucial to getting the story right, and that's what we value most.”

Other journalists suggested that the Senate could address security concerns through the credentialing process, which allows credentials to be revoked for any reason.

They also proposed setting up a press corps that could address conduct issues within itself.

Salt Lake Tribune Executive Editor Lauren Gustus suggested collaboration between the media and the Legislature to discuss some of those other ideas.

“Might we come together to have that conversation about what the rules are such that we are not walking into offices without knocking first, such that we are not entering places that I think in a sensible, logical conversation we would all agree is not a suitable spot for us to be,” she said. “I've worked in other states with similar organizations. They have successfully navigated thorny issues without ratcheting up the level of frustration that I think we all feel here.”

The hearing was contentious at some points, and some senators took the opportunity to criticize the media generally.

McCay, for example, asked the KUTV news director, “Would you agree with the statement that more and more journalism is taking a position on issues and less and less [is] reporting what's going on?”

McCay also took issue with some journalists calling themselves ‘the voice of the people’.

“How do you classify the press as the voice of the people? Help me understand that because the last I checked that was my job,” he said. “You’ve never been elected. Your job is, you know, for the most part, advertising-based and supported by television programming, etc.”

The resolution passed with bipartisan support. The committee has two Democrats. Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said she voted for it because of the dialogue it has created between the press and the Legislature. Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, was the lone “no” vote.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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