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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Closing the Statehouse Door?

From the Associated Press comes a fresh outrage....

The move was as much a surprise to most legislators as it was to reporters. Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson stepped to the podium two weeks ago on one of the busiest days of the legislative session and introduced a ban on reporters from the chamber while lawmakers are in session.

Within hours, the proposal was adopted and Georgia joined a growing number of states restricting journalists' access to lawmakers while legislative bodies are in session.

According to an Associated Press survey, legislative leaders in at least 38 states have restricted reporters from accessing lawmakers on the floors of at least one chamber during a floor session. Georgia joined Kansas this year in seemingly reviving the trend after several years in which few - if any - legislative leaders moved to restrict access.

Often, the measures are touted as a way to maintain order so legislators can focus on the debate at hand, or as a way to give lawmakers more space to maneuver through increasingly crowded rooms.

In Kansas, a new House Speaker imposed a similar ban on reporters this year in hopes of preserving decorum. In Georgia, the House leader argued reporters were given more leeway than their counterparts in other states.

"It just says the media is not to be given more rights than the public," said Richardson, a Republican from the Atlanta suburb of Hiram, before the change was approved on a 132-29 vote.

Critics contend it furthers limits the public's access to elected officials and restricts monitoring of government.

"This is another effort to impede public access to government proceedings," said Hollie Manheimer of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. "By limiting the flow of information to the public, this is a step backward."

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