New York State’s Assembly Democrats rejected, by vote, a resolution that would allow more journalists access to the Assembly Chambers. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists freely accessed the chamber and other areas in the state’s capitol building. While restrictions necessitated by the pandemic have been removed, the access and freedom journalists formerly had, have not been reinstated.
Before the pandemic, journalists were allowed considerable access to the chambers, allowing them to quiz politicians and report on matters occurring in those chambers in real time. A notice regarding the restrictions remaining in place was made on January 23, 2023.
In the present moment, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has limited the areas journalists can sit in, only allowing them to sit at the back of the chambers and in front of its rostrum. If members of the press seek to ask him questions, they may only do so by invitation.
Republican Minority Leader Will Barclay sponsored the failed resolution. The resolution failed along party lines even though Republicans, such as Assemblyman Ed Ra, supported the resolution. Ra highlighted how, because there were so many secretive and discreet negotiations and discussions in the Assembly chamber, allowing more journalists access would give Assembly matters transparency.
“Members of the press may not always be convenient but they keep us honest. They’re the ones that make sure our constituents know what’s going on with this Capitol and force us to really answer the tough questions,” Ra said.
Assemblyman Ra continued, “I think there should be absolutely no confusion and no ambiguity about where members of the press are allowed honestly.”
The current state of affairs, with journalists granted limited freedom to be present in and report on matters in the Assembly chambers, has left members of the press disappointed. In February 2023, Gothamist writer Jon Campbell wrote on Twitter saying, “ Reporters used to be able to walk the Assembly floor with relative ease and have access to an adjacent hallway where lawmakers/staffers gathered. Assembly leaders fought us on it at times, but finally restricted access during COVID. Bring it back, please!”