The Texas Senate secretary confirmed to a reporter that a COVID-19 policy implemented two years ago barring reporters from the chamber floor will continue into the new legislative session.
On Jan. 6, 2023, Dallas Morning News reporter Lauren McGaughy tweeted a portion of an email from Senate Secretary Patsy Spaw stating to her that the policy was still in effect.
“There is no floor seating for the press,” Spaw wrote. “The reserved area for the press was moved to the Senate Gallery in the southwest corner. The press is not restricted to that area, but may sit in any open seat in the gallery.”
Spaw did not respond to a request for further comment from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
The Texas Tribune reported that media members were moved to the third floor of the Senate gallery in 2021 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, while senators occupied the second floor. Donnis Baggett, executive vice president of the Texas Press Association, told the outlet via email that the decision to continue the policy was “unfortunate,” and that access is important for both reporters and senators. Baggett did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Tracker.
Press freedom advocacy groups said the decision was concerning, and lacked sufficient explanation.
“The Texas Senate is not even claiming any legitimate justification to limit press access,” said Seth Stern, advocacy director for Freedom of the Press Foundation. “Officials hope that press restrictions will fly under the radar when they quietly make temporary COVID policies permanent. Hopefully Texas won’t fall for it.” FPF co-founded and maintains the Tracker.
In early 2022, the Tracker reported how Iowa, Kansas and Utah senates enacted similar policies or changes to practice restricting reporter access.
This content originally appeared on U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: Incident Database and was authored by U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: Incident Database.