Arizona Wants Background Checks for Certain Journalists

By Michael Klazema on 4/12/2016

In an interesting development, leaders within the Arizona House of Representatives are going to start requiring background checks for journalists that cover the House. According to Sputnik News there is a reason for the background checks: traditionally, journalists covering House of Representatives matters aren’t just writing about the political body from afar. Rather, journalists in these positions receive key cards that give them free, unfettered access to the House floor. Apparently, these reporters can even access House facilities when the House of Representatives isn't in session. Or, at least, they could.

Based on the Sputnik News report, the Arizona House of Representatives is done giving journalists favored treatment. Going forward, any journalist hoping to interview state lawmakers about pending legislation or House votes will have to pass a criminal background checks to gain access to the floor. Any reporter who has been convicted of a felony in the past decade or a misdemeanor in the last five years will be "barred" from accessing the House floor. Reporters who fail their background checks or refuse to undergo the screening process will be asked to sit in the gallery instead.

It isn't just small-time newspapers or bloggers who could end up barred from the House floor, either. On the contrary, the new background check requirements will affect reporters from major publications like the Arizona Republic and even the Associated Press.

David Gowan, the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, says that the decision to enforce a background check requirement was motivated entirely by security. Strangely, though, he also says that the decision was inspired after a man in the gallery began shouting as part of a protest. Why House leaders made the leap from an incident with a civilian in the gallery to making it more difficult for reporters to access the House floor hasn't been explained and doesn't make much sense. It's also unclear how this measure will offer extra protection for House members since anyone—including reporters with criminal histories—will evidently be allowed to watch House sessions from the gallery.

It also isn't clear from the Sputnik News article what types of background checks the Arizona House will require reporters to face, or how quickly those checks will be processed. One would assume that the House would use a "flash" background check system to get near-instantaneous information about a reporter's criminal history. Such vetting systems are growing more popular in school districts where volunteers are required to undergo background checks.

However, the Sputnik News article did note that reporters had to cover the last House session from the gallery because they were barred from accessing the floor. Given that fact, the Arizona House of Representatives might need more time to run background checks, in which case reporters wouldn't be able to access House sessions unless they had been pre-screened.


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