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TribBlog: Access Granted

Should reporters wear muzzles when they're around politicians? Some states seem to think so, but not, thankfully, Texas.

Texas Capitol

A message to any member of the Capitol press corps ever stymied by an over-zealous sergeant at arms, legislator, or school crossing guard: At least you don’t work in Tennessee.

The National Conference of State Legislatures on Monday released a report outlining how accessible (or not) lawmakers on House and Senate floors are to reporters during the legislative sessions of 30 U.S. states.

In Austin, reporters and photographers are allowed to enter both the House and Senate chambers with proper credentials and garb (coats and ties for men, professional attire for women). That means Texas is rather open — a few states on the list don’t allow reporters on their House or Senate floors at all.

In Tennessee, for example, reporters are not allowed on the House floor; nor are they allowed to conduct interviews during session. In Hawaii, Illinois and a few other states, reporters are confined to press boxes only and cameras are not allowed on chamber floors.

Reporters in Texas are generally not allowed to walk past the velvet ropes and brass rails that encircle the desk areas of both chamber floors, however. That leaves many of us flailing our hands in the air or passing notes to legislative aides in the hopes of grabbing someone’s attention. But at least we get some wiggle room. In the state of Washington, the report says, “reporters are not allowed to wander.”

The need for and access to proper credentials is just as varied as the press freedoms they provide. Rhode Island and Oklahoma don’t require press credentials at all; in West Virginia they must be approved by a Speaker-appointed media committee. Bloggers aren’t yet allowed access to chamber floors in Mississippi (though that policy is under review) and reporters are only allowed access after a review by the House public information officer. Texas only allows reporters who earn their livings from journalism, which effectively bars most bloggers.

Of course, getting credentials doesn't mean keeping them. In Minnesota, credentials can be revoked if a holder “does something wrong.” What qualifies? Looking at papers on a member’s desk or taking photos of a member playing video games on his computer.

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