Sometimes UtahPolicy.com writes a story for legislative insiders – and this is one of those times.
The two new GOP leaders of the Utah House and Senate tell UtahPolicy.com they plan on keeping the media – i.e., public – accessibility of their predecessors.
Speaker-elect Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, says most of the time House majority caucuses – usually held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon – will be open to the press and media – both during the 45-day general session and on interim days.
There are several dozen chairs for the media/public available on a first-come, first-in basis in the majority caucus room, just across the north hallway from the House Chambers.
Senate President-elect Stuart Adams, R-Layton, says majority caucuses will remain closed, as they have been for several decades.
Both Democratic caucuses are open to the press and public.
Adams plans on continuing the open press availability in the president’s office upon each morning’s adjournment – around noon.
Those press briefings have been live-streamed, with viewers able to send in questions that Senate GOP leaders will answer.
Often the president invites in a member of Democratic leadership or a member from either party who have had one of their bills as the major discussion on the floor that morning.
Wilson said while he has not firmly decided, he believes he will not hold daily or regular press briefings or press conferences – continuing the practice of outgoing Speaker Greg Hughes of meeting with the press one-on-one, by-appointment interviews.
Early in Hughes’ speakership, he did hold some daily, or regular, press briefings as Senate GOP leadership does.
However, the general session where Hughes personally held up GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion bill, certain members of the media dominated those briefings – and Hughes believed he was being inappropriately harangued by reporters.
So, he decided not to provide such a controversial atmosphere, and started the by-appointment-only interviews.
It is usually the case that UtahPolicy has been able to set up a same-day interview with the speaker – but not always.
Rules committees in both bodies will be open – the House Rules meets during floor time, and is announced from the speaker’s podium.
Senate Rules meets right after the morning floor sessions, before senators break for lunch.
Both leaders said current reporter access to the floor of the Senate and House remains – reporters (accredited by the House and Senate) may walk on to the floor of either body when they are not in formal session – and conduct formal interviews or just talk off the record with the public officials.
In the 2018 Legislature, House GOP leaders briefly tried to keep the media off of the House floor just before the usual 10 a.m. daily session started.
There were a few unpleasant days as the new House media rule bill worked it’s way through the process – but in the end, Hughes et al. decided to leave the media access process the same.
Wilson said he has no plans to revisit that issue in the upcoming session – reporters can come onto the floor before the session starts.
Lobbyist/citizen access rules remain. Those who wish to talk to a representative or senator can ask blue/green-coated doormen to send in a written slip to individual lawmakers – who regularly walk out off the floor into the hallways to meet with interested individuals.
While hardline telephones remain on lawmakers’ floor chamber desks, they are not that often used (you can’t call directly into them).
Lawmakers all have state-supplied Apple cell phones. But they are encouraged not to talk on them during floor sessions – where in the smaller Senate Chamber noise can be a problem.
So, over time, texting has become common, with legislators often thumb-typing like crazy from the floor during debates and voting.