Senate Republican leaders have decided to deny media access to the floor of the Iowa Senate chamber where reporters have had workspace for more than a century.
Last year as a pandemic precaution, access to the House and Senate floors was limited to elected members of the legislature and a select number of staff.
For the 2022 session, which starts Monday, House GOP leaders are allowing reporters and photographers who cover the legislature back into areas called “press benches” on the House floor. Senate Republican leaders are not.
A spokesman for Senate Republicans says the media “plays an important role in the function of our republic,” but he says the “proliferation of non-traditional media” and First Amendment concerns make it difficult for the Senate to define “media access.”
Iowa Broadcast News Association leaders have issued a statement, calling on the Senate to reconsider their decision. The Iowa Capitol Press Association, in a statement issued this morning, said having “real-time, in-person access” to legislators helps reporters serve as the “eyes and ears of the public” and provide important information about legislative activities.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Iowa Senate will be one of a handful of legislative chambers in the country to deny members of the media floor access. Iowa Freedom of Information Council executive director Randy Evans said all Iowans should be troubled by the decision to move statehouse journalists from the press bench at the front of the Senate floor to an upstairs gallery. The council, which lists the Iowa Broadcasters Association and the Iowa Newspaper Association as members, is encouraging Senate leadership to reconsider.
Caleb Hunter, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said in a written statement released this afternoon that the ’22 session will be “the most transparent in the history of the state,” with committee meetings and floor action available online so Iowans can see Senate action “in real-time.”