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Perez tries to block media access to lawmakers

Speaker abruptly bans lawmaker interviews near Assembly floor.

By Gloria Romero

(Form the OC Register, January 10th, 2013)

Thomas Jefferson observed that "our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."

A blatant effort to curtail this liberty was attempted by California Assembly Speaker John Perez. Less than 15 minutes prior to the start of the Legislature's 2013 session, reporters were informed by the Assembly Chief Sergeant that Speaker Perez had issued an edict restricting their access to legislators during Assembly sessions. The ban extended to the time-honored practice of interviewing legislators at the rear of the chamber. Now, they would be booted from the chamber completely.

Reporters were stunned. No guidelines outlining the ban were produced. Reporters were simply informed that restricting their access was necessary to maintain "decorum" and "order" by reducing "noise levels" caused by interviews.

That doesn't even pass the smell test.

Ironically, legislators' own staff often congregate to converse in the same spot, yet, the edict didn't apply to them. In reality, the bulk of the "noise" heard during proceedings comes from lawmakers talking to each other. Also, the presiding officer can use a gavel to restore order when noise levels become too unruly. Assembly Sergeants readily roam the chamber to maintain order as well.

Outcries from both the public and the media persuaded Perez to walk back parts of his onerous edict.
When pressed for an explanation, Perez spokeswoman Robin Swanson admitted that there was no specific incident that sparked to his new order.

Perez last fall tried, but ultimately failed, to ban audio recording of proceedings. This new effort is troubling at a time when the speaker has consolidated his power following November's elections. With critical taxation debates on the horizon, now is not the time to suppress the media from gaining direct access to the elected representatives of the people.

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