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Ga. House bars reporters from chamber floor during session

By The Associated Press,
First Amendment Center Online

ATLANTA — House Republicans pushed through a measure on March 20 that bans reporters from the floor of the chamber while lawmakers are in session.

The new rule confines reporters to an area called the Media Gallery, an enclosed press box in the back of the chamber, where they can observe the proceedings through windows and hear audio through speakers. Reporters had been permitted to walk on to the floor to request interviews with lawmakers outside the chamber.

The change, introduced by House Speaker Glenn Richardson, requires reporters to seek interviews with lawmakers through student pages while lawmakers are in session. Reporters would be allowed on the floor immediately after the session is adjourned.

Still photographers and TV cameramen would still be allowed on the House floor during sessions.

Richardson said the measure put the House in line with the state Senate, legislatures in other states and Congress.

"It just says the media is not to be given more rights than the public," said Richardson, a Republican from Hiram.

Some legislators seemed almost gleeful about the measure, House Resolution 595, which passed by a 132-29 vote.

"You're going to want to be here for this," Rep. Larry O'Neal told lawmakers before the vote. O'Neal, a Republican from Warner Robins, has been at odds with the news media over allegations that he engineered a $100,000 tax break for Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The measure was introduced for the first time only hours before it reached a vote, prompting complaints from Democrats who said it would further restrict debate.

"This continues to close access and accountability of what we do here in the House," said House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, during a hastily called committee meeting on the bill.

Few lawmakers would hear his concerns before the vote was called. When the measure was called for a vote before the full House, he was not given a chance to speak about it.


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