The Washington Missourian Editorial: The Wrong Message

Posted: Saturday, January 9, 2016 12:00 am

The Missouri Senate has passed a rule change that would bar journalists from having access to the chamber floor.

Reporters have had a table on the Senate floor for decades to help them cover proceedings in the chamber. Under the rule change, reporters will have to cover sessions from the fourth floor public gallery.

The press table will be turned over to the Senate staff. Offices used for years by the media have been turned over to the Senate communications staff. Reporters have been moved to the fifth floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, Jefferson City Republican, said these moves have been talked about for years, and staff members need more space. He said the press would still have open access to Senate proceedings. He failed to mention that the moves will make it harder for the press to cover the Senate.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said he initiated the move, claiming some reporters “violated” the Senate trust by tweeting private conversations and negotiations they overheard. The only discussion cited was that the former president pro tem told the presiding senator to rein in a colleague who was getting animated during debate. Horrors!

The vote to ban the press from the Senate floor was 26-4. One of the senators who opposed the rule change was Democrat Jill Schupp, Creve Coeur, who said she liked having the press close by and didn’t think there should be an expectation of privacy in a public place. The Senate president said the floor was “not necessarily” a public place. It does belong to the taxpayers, who paid for it and maintain it. We understand there can be rules for public places, but there is no justification for the rule change in this instance.

Members of the General Assembly have an image problem because of the scandals during the 2015 session, and others before that year. This rule change gives the appearance of a governmental body that wants to shut the door to the public by making it harder for the media to report on proceedings. We don’t buy for a Jefferson City moment that the Senate staff must have more space and must be on the Senate floor.

To others, the proposal reeks of “payback” — punishing the media for its reporting.

The message this sends adds to the deterioration of public trust in the General Assembly.

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