Kansas Senate Bars Journalists From the Floor

Eve Loehrer, Editor-in-Chief

 When the Kansas Senate began its 2022 session in January, one key aspect was different: journalists were no longer allowed to do their job from the Senate floor. They were instead relegated to the upper gallery. 

This may not seem like a huge issue, but not being in the center of the action makes a journalist’s job much harder. For example, being removed from the floor makes it much more difficult for reporters to cultivate a relationship with legislators and clarify information.

 “It’s a little bit harder to do that when we’re sitting in a balcony above and your best chance at trying to clarify something or getting a sense of what’s going on is to wait, race down the stairs, and try to grab somebody in the hallways as they’re rushing away from you,” Sherman Smith from the Kansas Reporter said. 

Similar measures were taken in Iowa, and Cedar Rapids Gazette journalist Erin Murphy expressed the challenges he faces with these changes. 

“When we’re on the floor, those lawmakers are accountable to us because we can observe their work and communicate with them and challenge their work,” Murphy said. “When they’re accountable to us, by extension they’re accountable to the people of Iowa.” 

And what reason was given for limiting journalists’ ability to do their jobs and, by extension, the information available to the people on the actions of their elected officials? According to Mike Pirner, the spokesperson for Senate leadership, the reason is an increasing number of news outlets and journalists covering the Senate. 

However, this claim is simply untrue. According to an editorial by former Kansas Senator Steve Morris, the presence of reporters at the capitol is actually decreasing. 

In the words of Morris, “Placing restrictions on journalists in the Senate chamber suggests there is something to hide.” 

And with a new wave of controversial laws targeting abortion and the rights of transgender people, there very well might be. 

By not allowing journalists easy access to Senators to ask questions and cultivate a relationship with them, reporters are further alienated from the decisions being made on the floor that they are charged with informing millions of people of. 

Journalism is crucial in politics, especially today, as it keeps politicians accountable and voters informed. However, distrust of the media has grown in recent years, due in no small part to former president Donald Trump, who spread the idea that the press is an ‘enemy of the people.’ 

When Senators are creating public policy, it should be made public. Constituents have a right to know what decisions their elected officials are making, and allowing journalists full access to the Senate floor is a large part of this. 

Most high school students, including me, will not be able to vote in the midterm elections. But it’s important to stay up to date and informed on new government policy, even if you aren’t eighteen, because it can still affect you, and the easiest way to stay informed is through journalism.