Senators vote to kick reporters off Senate floor

Sifton one of four Democrats opposed

Scott Sifton

Scott Sifton

By State Capitol Bureau Staff

JEFFERSON CITY — By an overwhelming vote, the Missouri Senate approved a rule change that will move reporters from the Senate floor to an upstairs gallery overlooking the Senate.

The proposal’s sponsor — Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin — said he was motivated by a couple of times a reporter had tweeted conversations that senators had expected to be private.

“Some in the press violated the code of ethics by tweeting out discussions between senators and I will not stand for that, so they will not be on the floor of the Senate any more,” Richard said when asked during the short Senate debate why he was seeking to remove a Senate press table of more than four decades.

One of the two conversations involved a relatively loud reprimand by a former Senate president pro tem who criticized a senator for failing to maintain decorum in the Senate when he was serving as the temporary presiding officer.

Four Democrats, including Sen. Scott Sifton of Affton. voted against the rule change that passed 26-4. The Senate eviction takes effect March 29.

One of the opponents, Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City. said banishing reporters to an upstairs gallery would harm the ability of journalists to obtain information for the general public as to what the Senate was doing.

But at a news conference with reporters, Richard argued that it was the fault of reporters themselves for not respecting confidentiality of private conversations overheard from a press table close to where senators talk with staff.

“When the press violated the trust of tweeting information of senators on the floor in discussion and negotiation and sent that out, I thought that was a breach of irresponsibility,” Richardson said.

The press-table eviction follows Senate action last fall that ousted the news media from their traditional offices to a smaller complex of offices in what amounts to a Capitol attic. The new offices are not accessible to the physically disabled and no longer provide space for visiting reporters.