Assembly moves to restrict press interviews during floor sessions

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 - 7:34 am | Page 3A

News reporters will be barred from interviewing legislators in the Assembly chambers under new rules ordered by Speaker John A. Pérez before Monday's first session of 2013.

The prohibition is among several rule changes imposed by Pérez that restrict press movement within chambers during floor sessions and tighten access to legislators immediately afterward.

Assembly sergeants-at-arms said they have been told only about new restrictions involving the press, not legislative aides. But Pérez's spokeswoman Robin Swanson said the spirit of the new rules is expected to extend to staff, too.

Swanson said the purpose of ending back-of-chambers interviews is to enhance decorum and reduce noise or distraction.

Swanson said she was not immediately sure what prompted the new restriction on after-session access. It does nothing to curb commotion during daily proceedings.

With nearly half the Assembly's seats filled with freshmen, 38 of 80, the overall goal is to "run an efficient Assembly house and try to make sure that everyone's voices are heard on the floor," Swanson said.

Previous rules allowed reporters to interview legislators in the back of the Assembly chambers or in a hallway press bay. The new rules continue to allow hallway interviews – beside the front or back door – but they bar back-of-chambers interviews.

Rhys Williams, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said the Senate has no plans to institute similar rules.

Swanson said enforcement in the Assembly will be done with reason and discretion – a brief informal conversation is permitted but prolonged talk between a lawmaker and either a reporter or employee should be taken into the hallway.

"Conversations can happen, but the goal is not to distract from what's happening on the floor," Swanson said.

Pérez's new rules are not yet in writing, so some aspects remain unclear – for example, the extent to which reporters can converse with legislators before that chat is deemed prolonged and impermissible.

Assembly sergeants said privately that their understanding is that reporters must talk with legislators outside the chambers, period.

For reporters, an additional change is that they no longer can approach lawmakers on the Assembly floor once the gavel ends a daily session. Reporters will be kept at bay until lawmakers leave the room.

Swanson said the Assembly has taken several steps this year to enhance media accommodations, including improving audio equipment and installing a TV to relay Senate proceedings to reporters in the lower house.

Even with its new rules, the Assembly provides more media access than in a number of other states: A handful provide no floor access or restrict reporters to glassed-in press areas, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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