The Texas Senate secretary confirmed to a reporter that a COVID-19 policy implemented two years ago barring reporters from the chamber floor will continue into the new legislative session.
On Jan. 6, 2023, Dallas Morning News reporter Lauren McGaughy tweeted a portion of an email from Senate Secretary Patsy Spaw stating to her that the policy was still in effect.
“There is no floor seating for the press,” Spaw wrote. “The reserved area for the press was moved to the Senate Gallery in the southwest corner. The press is not restricted to that area, but may sit in any open seat in the gallery.”
Spaw did not respond to a request for further comment from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
The Texas Tribune reported that media members were moved to the third floor of the Senate gallery in 2021 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, while senators occupied the second floor. Donnis Baggett, executive vice president of the Texas Press Association, told the Tracker via email that the decision to continue the policy was a disservice to both reporters and senators.
“Many legislative procedures were changed during the height of COVID restrictions, but most of those have been dissolved since. Unfortunately, this rule was left in place. The result: reporters are still restricted to the Senate gallery, which is a floor above the senators themselves. That works to the detriment of timely and mutually beneficial conversations between senators and reporters.”
Baggett said that he hopes Senate leadership will reconsider the decision for the benefit of voters.
Press freedom advocacy groups said the decision was concerning, and lacked sufficient explanation.
“The Texas Senate is not even claiming any legitimate justification to limit press access,” said Seth Stern, advocacy director for Freedom of the Press Foundation. “Officials hope that press restrictions will fly under the radar when they quietly make temporary COVID policies permanent. Hopefully Texas won’t fall for it.” FPF co-founded and maintains the Tracker.
Editor's note: The article was updated to include comment from Texas Press Association Executive Vice President Donnis Baggett.