The move to take news reporters off the Senate floor was implemented in 2021 as a COVID-19 precaution, but an official said Friday the measure would continue in the upcoming session.
The Texas Senate will bar news reporters from the chamber floor in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Tuesday, continuing a measure introduced two years ago as a COVID-19 precaution even as state officials publicly rail against other requirements to reduce the spread of the virus.
The news was first reported by The Dallas Morning News. In an email to the newspaper, Patsy Spaw, the Senate secretary, said press access in the chamber has not changed since last session.
“There is no floor seating for the press,” she wrote. “The reserved area for the press was moved to the Senate gallery in the southwest corner.”
Spaw did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Texas Tribune. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the chamber, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Donnis Baggett, executive vice president of the Texas Press Association said the decision was “unfortunate.”
“Ready access is essential not only for reporters, but for senators who need information be to disseminated to Texans accurately and quickly,” he said in an email statement. “I hope leadership will reconsider this.”
The move means news reporters will have less access to senators. Under the rules implemented in 2021 — ostensibly as measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — reporters were moved to the Senate gallery on the third floor. The senators conduct their business on the second floor.
An Austin American-Statesman columnist at the time labeled the changes “unprecedented restrictions on journalists for an unprecedented legislative session” and wrote that he hoped the restrictions would be lifted as the pandemic subsided.
Patrick has railed against local and federal leaders’ attempts to require COVID-19 precautions, like vaccine requirements. But the Senate is continuing its restrictions on reporters on the chamber floor more than two years after the COVID-19 vaccine first became available to the public.
Reporters are still expected to have floor access in the Legislature’s other chamber, the House of Representatives.
“The Texas House has historically allowed credentialed media in designated areas on the chamber floor,” said Cassi Pollock, a spokesperson for House Speaker Dade Phelan. “The temporary exception to this practice during COVID was repealed in April 2021, and the chamber will continue to follow the long-standing practice of allowing credentialed media in designated areas on the House floor.”
Reporters will be allowed at the press table on the House floor for the chamber’s opening ceremony Tuesday. After that, the 150 members of the House will vote on the chamber’s rules, including press access.
Photo: The secretary of the Texas Senate said Friday that reporters would be barred from the chamber floor, continuing a restriction on the press that began ostensibly as a COVID-19 measure in 2021. Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune