The Virginia Senate this week has decided to move the public’s business farther from the public.
The Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Virginia Press Association, and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government are disappointed by Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment’s action to refuse to allow journalists onto the Senate floor to cover the General Assembly proceedings, as reported by The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Washington Post and others.
Norment has banished the press to cramped quarters where it is difficult to do its job.
The press serves as the public’s eyes and ears in General Assembly proceedings. The public isn’t allowed on the floor, where the action is happening. By banishing the press from the floor, it is harder to hear what is being said, and some of the members cannot be seen from the new vantage point. By being on the floor, reporters can get a better, fuller sense of what is happening by being present on the floor, not relocated to the gallery.
Removing the press from the floor is also a matter of precedent and symbolism. The press has had access to the Senate floor for decades. Removing the press from the floor symbolically removes open government and public oversight. A lawmaking group that pushes the press away to arm’s length also pushes away public scrutiny.
This action comes at a time when the House is ending its practice of impromptu and largely unrecorded committee meetings at members’ desks, a practice the Senate has not ended.
We request that Norment and other Virginia leaders responsible for these changes immediately allow the press to return to its normal working conditions and show their commitment to transparency and open government.