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Assembly speaker restricts press access to lawmakers [Updated]

January 8, 2013 |  2:45 pm

JohnPerezReporters who cover the California Assembly face new hurdles to interviewing lawmakers under rules ordered by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) for this year's legislative session.

Ending the longstanding practice of reporters interviewing legislators at the rear of the lower house's chambers, the Assembly speaker now requires those conversations to be conducted outside in the hallway.

[UPDATE, Jan. 8, 4:23 p.m.: Perez's office told the Times it has reconsidered the new rule and will still allow reporters to interview lawmakers in the rear of the Assembly chambers -- though those interviews must be conducted in a designated, cordoned-off area.]

The new rules also bar reporters from walking on the Assembly floor to talk to lawmakers after the lower house adjourns for the day. Such contacts were another longstanding practice.

Robin Swanson, Perez's spokeswoman, said the new rules were instituted to "make the Assembly floor more efficient and limit the disturbances so all members can do their jobs and focus on the legislation at hand."

Asked what prompted the changes, she could not cite specific instances in which reporters disrupted the business of the Assembly, only saying that the new rules were meant to "reduce noise interference" during sessions.

Compared with other state Legislatures, she said the new rules of the California Assembly are "pretty middle-of-the-road."

This is not the first time Perez has battled the Capitol press corps over public access and the legislative process.

In 2011, Assembly administrators denied newspapers' requests to examine legislators' current spending records, claiming that they were confidential under provisions in the Legislative Open Records Act. The media outlets sued, and a Sacramento County Superior Court judge later ruled that Assembly administrators had improperly withheld the records and chided the lower house for its “somewhat ironic” view of the open-records law.


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-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento


Photo: Assembly Speaker John A. Perez speaks on the Assembly floor during the legislative session in 2011. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press