Shenanigans with Capitol press access

May 9, 2012

By Katy Grimes

I’ve written several times about the ridiculous hassles I’ve had with the many press credential hold-ups with the Assembly Speaker’s press office.

Today I inquired with Assembly Speaker John Perez’s press office about approval for a press pass to Gov. Jerry Brown’s May Revise, and was told that this time the Governor’s office was handling the press passes. When I inquired at the Governor’s office, they told me that my Governor’s Press Credential would be sufficient.

However, the Governor’s office could not tell me the date of the May Revise, and said they had not made a formal announcement yet.

That’s funny – I heard from other Capitol staffers that they were informed that the May revise will be held on Monday May 14.

Shenanigans Abound

In January when the Legislature reconveyened after the holiday break, as I sat down in the Assembly, I was informed by Speaker Perez’s office that the desk I had regularly used inside the Assembly chambers was no longer available to me. They relegated me to the only “Visiting Media” desk in the farthest, darkest back corner of the room.

This is really funny since I am one of two reporters who regularly covers the Assembly. The other 11 media desks sit vacant–Reuters, Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Bloomberg, AP, Riverside Press Enterprise, and other media desks are always empty.

I don’t really care–I can work anywhere. But with all of the empty desks, this was a really petty move.

Shortly after the desk incident, I was given the runaround and finally denied access to the Governor’s State-of-the-State address. On the day of the event, the Assembly Speaker’s Press office instead sent me to an “overflow media” room in the Capitol on the fourth floor and implied that there were many media people excluded from the State-of-the-State address. Apparently this was just for moi, since I was the only media person sent to the giant overflow room, which was dark and locked when I arrived.

Very funny.

And shortly after that event, I received word that CalWatchdog’s 2012 credential renewal applications were the only Capitol media not on the list for approval by the Assembly Rules Committee. My editor placed several calls to the Capitol Correspondents Association, who assured us that our 2012 credentials would be approved, and that in the meantime, our 2011 credentials would be honored. Eventually we received the updated credentials.

I find it interesting that approval for press credentials in the State Capitol comes from the legislative body in which we investigate, report and write about.

Back in time

This all started with CalWatchdog’s original application for Capitol press credentials in 2009 when we first started up. After being told that the press credential approval process would take just a couple of weeks, we were stunned when it took seven months to receive approval for our press credentials. And yes, I said seven months.

Former Democratic Assembly Speaker Karen Bass’s office first held up our press credentials. Despite numerous phone calls, formal letters, and in-person inquiries, no one in Bass’s office could or would tell us if and when the credentials would be approved, or what the holdup was.

However, lack of formal credentials did not stop us from reporting from the Capitol. But we were unable to gain entrance to the Assembly and Senate press bay, or to the Assembly and Senate chambers.

After Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, was sworn in, the problem got worse.

I made more than 10 in-person requests to Perez’s office and the Capitol Correspondents Association about the status of CalWatchdog’s press credentials. And each time I was told that they still didn’t have the credentials approved, and in fact, often claimed that they didn’t even know where the applications were.

The arrogance was astounding.

During the process, I came across the mission statement for the Capitol Correspondents Association, and it was with some irony that I read, “The mission of the Capitol Correspondents Association of California is to make it easier for news professionals who cover the state Capitol to do their jobs.”

And in 2012, the games just continue.

In January of this year when I received additional information from an Assembly staffer that the Speaker’s office had rearranged the press desks in the Assembly because “there were five desks assigned to news organizations that no longer have Sacramento bureaus,” I knew something hinky was going on.

The Speaker’s office reported, “As a result, we’ve updated the desks to best reflect the current roster of credentialed print reporters, as well as clearly identifying desks that are used by both the majority and minority leadership staff.”

What a bunch of children.

First Amendment

Maybe a refresher course on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is needed. The First Amendment prohibits infringing on the freedom of the press. “Congress shall make no law … abridging freedom of speech, or of the press.” The Speech and Press Clauses of the Constitution mean that government officials cannot restrict public debate about public affairs.

And this includes media access to government meetings.

The push back we are seeing hinges on a political system based on the will of the people and a press free of government control.

But that’s a discussion for another day.

I’ll follow up Monday, hopefully from the Governor’s May revise.



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