Texas Senate’s press ban is bad for our state

Texas Senate’s press ban is bad for our state

Texas lawmakers are back at work in Austin. And they have a lot of work to do. The state has a record surplus that needs attention, along with many other long-term problems such as water shortages and low teacher pay.

Legislature decisions affect the daily lives of Texans. This is why any concerns that the Legislature will not act with transparency must be addressed.

Last week, Secretary of State Senate Patsy Spaw told our colleague that the press will not be allowed on the Senate floor, continuing a policy that began during the pandemic.

Is this Governor Dan Patrick’s way of saying he’s still concerned about COVID-19? We doubt it. Instead, it looks like a play to kill a long tradition of the Senate in the name of secrecy and insider dealings.

The statehouse allowed the press to return once vaccines were widely available in April 2021, demonstrating the kind of openness Texans deserve to expect from their government.

A spokesman for House Speaker Dade Phelan told The Texas Tribune that “the chamber will continue to follow the longstanding practice of allowing credentialed media in designated areas on the House floor.”

Almost two years later, the Senate refuses to follow suit. Why?

Spaw says the press will be allowed in the Senate gallery along with everyone else, but has yet to give our editorial colleague an answer as to why the policy is still in place.

This decision will limit the public’s knowledge of the inner workings on the chamber floor. And this is not the first time. In 2017, the Senate limited the ability of reporters to speak to lawmakers along the chamber’s side rails, another longstanding tradition. This was introduced as a rule to increase the “decoration” on the floor of the room. We’re trying not to laugh.

Related: Senate rules threaten to unnecessarily hamper press coverage

It was a scam then, and it is now. The public deserves independent insight into the workings of the Senate, and Texas leaders for generations recognized that that came from allowing press access. The flow of information is especially important at a time when politicians use their social media accounts to instantly spin facts. Many senators also rely on access to the press to get the word out on important votes.

Donnis Baggett, executive vice president of the Texas Press Association, told us the rule “works to the detriment of timely and mutually beneficial conversations between senators and reporters.”

Given Patrick and other Republican leaders’ track record of avoiding outside scrutiny like the plague, it’s no surprise that a pandemic-era limit would be extended.

But senators who still respect the body’s traditions as well as the need for transparency should step back.

With a $33 billion surplus on the line, Texans should think twice about trusting a room full of politicians to their own devices.

Related: How Texas Should Spend Its $33 Billion Surplus

We welcome your thoughts in a letter to the editor. View the instructions and submit your letter here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *