JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (TheBlaze/AP) — Missouri senators ordered journalists off the Senate floor Thursday after some lawmakers complained their private conversations had been tweeted.
The Senate voted 26-4 to move reporters to a visitors’ gallery overlooking the chamber in Jefferson City. Starting March 29, journalists will no longer be allowed at their longtime, 10-seat table near the Senate dais and the desks of several senators. Photographers will still be allowed on the Senate floor.
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard says he initiated the move because some reporters had violated the Senate’s trust in recent years by tweeting private discussions and negotiations they overheard on the Senate floor.
The Senate floor is “our space, that’s not your space,” Richard, a Republican from Joplin, told reporters after the vote. The press isn’t allowed on the floor of the U.S. Senate either, he said.
Richard didn’t cite any specific examples of Twitter posts to which he objected Thursday.
As you might have expected, journalists in the Show-Me-State didn’t take too kindly to the change. Others likened it to the recent controversy at the University of Missouri, in which students and faculty advocated for more “safe spaces.”
— Joey Parker (@JoeyABC17) January 7, 2016
— warhovert (@warhovert) January 7, 2016
— Eric Greitens (@EricGreitens) January 7, 2016
But his predecessor as Senate president pro tem, Tom Dempsey, had been upset over a 2014 incident in which a reporter overheard and tweeted that Dempsey had told the chamber’s presiding senator to rein in a colleague who was getting particularly animated during debate. Dempsey had presumed his instructions were a private conversation, said Todd Scott, a Senate attorney who was Dempsey’s chief of staff.
During Thursday’s brief floor debate over the rule change, Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from Creve Coeur, said she liked having the press close by and didn’t think there should be an expectation of privacy in a public place. Richard said the floor was “not necessarily” a public place. Three other Democrats joined Schupp in opposing the move.
But the new rule won’t take effect right away. Senate administrators plan to open a new space in the upper gallery to serve as the new press area. It is expected to open by late March, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Republicans hold a 24-8 Senate majority. Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, was among those supporting the move.
The Senate plans to allow its staff to take over the current press table.
In the House, reporters generally use a press gallery overlooking the chamber.