House lawmakers are debating rule changes that would restrict press access, eliminate notes on the constitutionality of bills, and allow the Legislature to call itself into a special session.
The House Rules Committee gave an initial OK to legislation on Monday that would ban reporters from the House floor five minutes before the start of legislative business.
Many media representatives objected to the bill.
“I do worry that this measure sometimes conveys a message that the press — whose job it is to report on government use of tax dollars and creation of laws — that we’re not welcome here and the public is not welcome here,” said Ben Winslow, a reporter for Fox 13.
“H.R. 4 would take that separation between lawmakers and the press to a much higher level," said Jennifer Napier-Pearce, editor of the Salt Lake Tribune. "Essentially you’d be creating another barrier between you and the public."
“We use that time before floor time to talk to lawmakers to find out what’s going on. I think that what this does is it gives people an opportunity to dodge questions, to stay away from us,” said Bryan Schott, managing editor of UtahPolicy.com.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan said he proposed the rule after hearing complaints from colleagues who wanted more time to prepare for floor debate.
The same committee approved another change that would instruct legislative attorneys to stop putting constitutional notes on bills.
Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said such notes are unnecessary and only give ammunition to opponents of proposed laws.
The committee also voted for a constitutional amendment to allow lawmakers to call themselves into a special session. Currently only the governor has that power.
House Speaker Greg Hughes foreshadowed the move after a dispute with the governor's office over last year's 3rd Congressional District special election to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Over the objection of House and Senate leaders, Herbert did not convene a special session to outline the rules for that election.
The full House will now debate the slate of changes before they go into effect.