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Senate GOP touts transparency, eliminates press space

Howie Fischer in the Senate Press Room on March 17.

Senior Republicans on March 16 touted the transparency of Arizona's government, citing its open meeting laws, open caucuses and the Legislature's website, which broadcasts hearings live and archives official proceedings.

The legislators were highlighting Arizona's achievements in making government more accessible to the public during the kickoff of "Sunshine Week," a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

So it wasn't without a little touch of irony that the chamber's top lieutenant reiterated that the Capitol press won't be able to continue to lease office space inside the Senate building.

"In the interest of Sunshine Week," asked Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services, "are you going to let the press stay in the Senate?"

"Well, the short answer is no," answered Senate President Bob Burns. 

"We have needs for the space. One of the things that you talked about earlier – setting up cameras in the caucus – I think if we can convert that room into a caucus room, we can it make a much better functioning room for our caucus and include this video component and all that sort of stuff," Burns added.

As far as he knows, the Capitol press corps has occupied the room, located on the first floor, at least since the late 1970s, according to Fischer, who has been covering Arizona government since 1982.

Late last year, the Senate served notice to the Capitol press that it is not renewing its lease on the space, which was going to end on Dec. 30th.  Senate leadership has since extended that to June 30th or end of session, whichever comes later.

Also last year, there was talk of the Senate helping the Capitol press arrange a lease for space in the old capitol building.

But Fischer said Burns told him the capitol press needs to find its own space.

"Basically, what he said is he is not interested in even talking to us about either other space in the Senate when they move different offices upstairs and he is not interested in trying to expedite anything for us in the old Capitol," Fischer said.

The issue of the office space cropped up in a press conference on March 16, when Senate leaders touted Arizona's achievements in making government more transparent.

"I also think it is interesting to note that with regard to open caucuses, Arizona stands alone in the Western states around us," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray. California, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada have closed caucuses, he said.

"So I think Arizona is doing what it can to make sure that our government is open," he said.

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