Texas Senate to ban journalists from floor of chamber

AUSTIN (Texas Tribune) – The Texas Senate will ban reporters from the boardroom for the upcoming legislative session starting Tuesday, continuing a measure introduced two years ago as a precaution against COVID-19, even as state officials publicly protest against other requirements to reduce the spread of the virus.

the news was first reported by The Dallas Morning News. In an email to the newspaper, Senate Secretary Patsy Spow said press access to the House had not changed since the last session.

“There are no press spaces on the floor,” she wrote. “The reserved press area has been moved to the Senate Gallery in the southwest corner.”

Spowe did not immediately respond to The Texas Tribune’s request for comment. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who presides over the House, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Donnis Baggett, executive vice president of the Texas Press Association, called the decision “unfortunate.”

“Ready access is important not only for reporters, but also for senators who need information that must be accurately and quickly distributed to Texans,” he said in an emailed statement. “I hope management will reconsider this.”

The move means reporters will have less access to senators. In accordance with regulations introduced in 2021 – ostensibly as measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – journalists were moved to the Senate Gallery on the third floor. Senators conduct their business on the second floor.

A columnist for the Austin American-Statesman at the time called the changes “unprecedented restrictions on journalists due to an unprecedented legislative session” and wrote that he hoped the restrictions would be lifted as the pandemic eased.

Patrick spoke out against attempts by local and federal leaders to enforce COVID-19 precautions, such as vaccine requirements. But the Senate continues to impose restrictions on journalists on the chamber floor more than two years after the COVID-19 vaccine first became available to the public.

Reporters are expected to continue to have access to the other house of the Legislative Assembly, the House of Representatives.

“Historically, the Texas House has allowed certified media to be in designated areas on the floor of the chamber,” said Cassie Pollock, spokeswoman for House Speaker Dade Phelan. “The temporary exception to this practice during COVID was lifted in April 2021 and the House will continue to follow the longstanding practice of allowing authorized media to be in designated areas on the floor of the House of Representatives.”

Reporters will be allowed to the press table on the floor of the House of Representatives for the House’s opening ceremony on Tuesday. The 150 members of the House will then vote on the rules of the House, including access to the press.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texastribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a non-profit, non-partisan media organization that informs and engages with Texans about public policy, politics, government, and state issues.

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