Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Sunday, February 17, 2019 1:00 am

Senate leaders limit reporters' floor access

BRIAN FRANCISCO and NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

New leadership is restricting access to lawmakers on the Senate floor by credentialed media.

For decades journalists have been allowed to approach senators on the floor – before and after session but not when business is being conducted – for interviews. It is a common way reporters in the Statehouse talk to legislators for stories, and it also occurs in the House.

But in the past few weeks, the Senate has told reporters to remain in their designated area at the back of the room – even when the chamber is adjourned. The press shop is instead trying to funnel reporters solely through spokespeople.

Several reporters have been admonished by doorkeepers to stop doing interviews senators had willingly agreed to.

Senate Republicans insist this isn't a new rule. But reporters never knew it existed and it was never enforced.

“Reporters may talk with senators in the back of the Senate chamber, but are not permitted to approach Senators at their desks or to walk up the aisles,” said Molly Swigart, the Senate Republican communications director.

“If a senator is at his/her desk and a reporter wishes to speak with him/her, a Senate staff member can assist in passing the request on to the senator.

“This has been the Senate policy for several years. There have been a handful of instances this session when reporters approached senators at their desks following session. As a result, leadership wished to issue a reminder about the existing policy.”

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, also insisted the rule has been around for years – that 30 minutes before and after session reporters aren't allowed on the main part of the senate floor.

“Upon request senators will come up and meet with you and answer your questions as best they can,” Bray said. “But there has to be a place where we have our ability to do our work and communicate with other senators about bills, amendments and other things that are going on and that's the reason for the rule.”

Senators also have offices in the Statehouse that are off-limits to reporters.

Defending Pence

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks took to Twitter on Thursday to defend Vice President Mike Pence against criticism from a Democratic presidential candidate from Indiana – and predict that Pence will become president someday.

Banks linked to a CNN interview with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in which Buttigieg lambasted Republican Pence for his support of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act when Pence was governor in 2015. Opponents of the legislation said it would allow businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals based on the owners' religious beliefs.

“His worldview is one that is way out of step with the American mainstream,” said Buttigieg, who is gay. “And we saw that in Indiana when he really embarrassed our state with policies that both Democrats and Republicans, not just the political world but the business community, stepped up and said, 'Hey, you're making us look like a backwards place at just the moment we're trying to advance.'

“Unfortunately, he now has a national stage for some of those fanatical social ideas,” Buttigieg said on CNN.

Banks reacted on his personal Twitter account. 

“Hey @PeteButtigieg, there's nothing embarrassing about fighting for our religious liberties. The only thing that was embarrassing was the false left wing demagoguery. @VP was great Gov. for our state who grew our economy & fought for our values. He'll be great POTUS one day too,” Banks tweeted, using the acronym for president of the United States.

Banks was a member of the state Senate when the General Assembly approved two versions of the religious freedom bill, although the Navy Reserve officer was serving in Afghanistan at the time and had been replaced as a lawmaker by his wife, Amanda. 

Banks' tweet elicited several responses on Twitter that were critical of Pence or complimentary of Buttigieg and some that backed Pence.

Holcomb to join federal panel

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Ivanka Trump, an adviser to President Donald Trump, last week announced Gov. Eric Holcomb as one of the 25 members of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board.

“Ensuring our country has a skilled and ready workforce is the defining issue of the decade, and we don't have a day to waste. I'm honored to be able to share Indiana's story with the nation,” Holcomb said. “But for all our progress, we still have a long way to go. Cracking this code will demand the greatest focus and collaboration, and I am excited to join the nation's top leaders in this endeavor.”

Established by executive order, this board will work with the National Council for the American Worker, leveraging the knowledge of its members to develop and implement a strategy to revamp the American workforce to better meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Correction 

The headline on last week's Political Notebook incorrectly identified the Allen County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner, which will be April 26 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, 305 E. Washington Center Road, Fort Wayne.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Brian Francisco at bfrancisco@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.