Arizona Speaker Dumps Bid|to Keep Reporters Off Floor

     PHOENIX (CN) – Arizona’s House leader on Tuesday rescinded a policy that barred reporters who refused to submit to background checks from the House floor, less than a week after instituting the much-criticized new rule.
     In a memo to members, House Speaker David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, backed away from the rule that some lawmakers and media advocates had criticized as being unprecedented and retaliatory.
     The rule would have banned reporters convicted of “a felony within the last 10 years or a misdemeanor within the last five years, excluding traffic arrests” from receiving “non-employee” badges that allowed them to come and go with relative ease.
     Reporters who already have badges would have had to reapply for access to the House floor by consenting to the background checks. Those who refused to submit to a check would have been required to remain in the upstairs public gallery.
     The new policy came about after the Arizona Capitol Times reported in January that Gowan charged travel costs to the state. Gowan repaid more than $12,000, and is currently under investigation by the Arizona Attorney General’s office.
     The Capitol Times reporter who wrote the piece, Hank Stephenson, pleaded guilty in 2014 to misdemeanor second-degree criminal trespass following a bar fight in Wickenburg, Arizona.
     Stephenson tweeted Gowan’s memo on Tuesday with the hashtag “Victory.”
     In his memo to lawmakers, Gowan wrote, “Although many of you have asked that the House heighten security measures, some have expressed concern about the policy’s effect. Having heard these concerns and taken them to heart, I am suspending the background-check requirement effective today and for the balance of the session.”
     But reporters won’t have the same access they had before. The previous badge system has been tossed and now reporters will be allowed on the House floor only after “signing in and out of the chief clerk’s office,” Gowan wrote.
     Twenty Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives signed a letter last Thursday asking Gowan to reinstate the previous access to the floor for reporters.
     “The press corps has been on the House floor for at least 30 years, and we should not change the access now,” their letter stated. “This is the people’s house, and we should not be putting up barriers to block the people’s ability to get information about the goings on in the House.”

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