Arguing that the move would make it easier to secure the chamber, Senate President Russell Pearce on Tuesday issued a memo saying press conferences that are open to the public will no longer be allowed inside the Arizona Senate building.
“Due to recent events within the Senate building that directly impacted the safety of the public, members, and staff,” Pearce’s memo said, “the use of any hearing room for a press conference open to the public is no longer an option.”
The memo doesn’t ban media briefings inside the Senate. Pearce said briefings that do “not involve an invitation to the public” may continue inside the building.
But in order to hold an event in any of the hearing rooms, a reservation must be made in advance, Pearce’s memo said.
In his memo, Pearce also suggested that details of the event, such as the number of people attending as well as any information that would help better prepare for security, be provided when reserving a room.
Pearce said law enforcers advised him it would be much easier to secure the Senate and to deal with crowds if press conferences were held outside the building.
“Please know that safety is my primary concern and that these changes represent our best means of maintaining and preserving the wellbeing and security of the public, members, and staff,” he said.
As expected, Democrats, who have been holding press conference that often panned Republicans for their actions or legislation, are unhappy with the move.
Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, said the last thing she wants is a perception that the Senate is an unwelcome place for the public.
“What will happen if suddenly we are speaking with someone and then we ended up going into a conference room of sorts, and a press member walked in with us? What would happen then to those members of the public?” she asked.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, surmised that Pearce issued the directive because he doesn’t like what’s being discussed in these press conferences.
“If I was doing a press conference supporting Ron Gould’s gun omnibus bill, I wouldn’t be seeing this memo,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times. “He has taken his position as Senate President to a new high. He is dictating what we can and cannot talk about. He’s dictating who I can meet with and who I can’t meet with. It’s crazy.”
But Pearce rejected the criticisms as mere “pontificating.”
As for Gallardo’s insinuation that he doesn’t like the topic of the media briefings, Pearce quipped: “I don’t even know what their press conference is about. How would I have an opinion about it? I don’t attend them.”
Pearce said holding a media briefing outside of the Senate building — on the Capitol lawn, for example — used to be the norm. Holding it inside the chamber is a fairly new phenomenon, he told reporters.
When asked if members of the public would be arrested if they attended a media briefing inside the Senate, Pearce said: “That’s a stupid question.”