PHOENIX (KSAZ) - A controversial new rule at the State Capitol could change the news you receive. Arizona newspaper and TV reports are told they now have to undergo criminal background checks before they can enter the House Floor at the State Capitol.
The new rules made by the House Speaker, who says they are there for safety purposes. But some journalists say the rule is excessive.
Currently, journalists can ask lawmakers questions on the floor, but now House Speaker David Gowan is blocking reporters unless they undergo a comprehensive background check. Reporters would have to give staff access to their criminal and civil records. Some people say the rule is an assault on the press.
In 34 years covering the Arizona Capitol, reporter Howie Fisher says this week is a first.
"Our badges which normally allow us access to the house floor were deactivated, and we were told even if our badges hadn't, we were not allowed on the floor," said Fisher.
Gowan's new rule requiring background checks comes after an Arizona Capitol Times reporter published an article showing the lawmaker used $12,000 on personal trips. Now that reporters' prior trespass conviction could possibly block him from the house floor.
"By banning the reporters from hearing these conversations on the floor, and making their lives miserable and difficult, what's going to happen is it's going to be a free for all and it's under Speaker Gowan's watch," said Rep. Mark Cardenas.
Gowan's spokesperson says the new rule is unrelated to the paper's investigation. Gowan repaid the $12,000 and is asking the Arizona Attorney General to investigate, something the AG's says they are investigating.
"It has nothing to do with the press if people choose not to fill out the form or do the check they can be at the gallery. We're not asking for social security numbers; we're not asking for detailed information, it's a cursory background check," said Stephanie Grisham, a spokesperson for Gowan.
Gowan says the rule is part of a plan to beef up security following the arrest of a protester in the gallery. Still the rule doesn't apply to state lawmakers who are allowed to carry guns on the floor.
"I am not armed here, somehow to suggest the security threat is coming from reporters on the House floor is garbage," said Fisher.
The Capitol Times and the Associated Press issued statements against the new rule. Gowan is being termed out; it's unclear if he will stay after he leaves office.