Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Right to record an issue at Missouri hearing on “right-to-work” | PoliticMo

Right to record an issue at Missouri hearing on “right-to-work” | PoliticMo

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As the Missouri Senate prepared for a showdown
on “right-to-work,” people attending a hearing on the bill Monday
engaged in a showdown over another “right”: the right to film.

When reporters and the public arrived at a hearing of the Senate
Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee, they were told they
could neither film nor record the proceedings. A Senate camera, they
were told, would be recording the hearing “gavel to gavel,” and the
public could obtain a tape of the hearing from them after it was over.

The option to obtain the video later was not enough for a number of
radio journalists who hoped to record audio from the meeting in time to
use it in their broadcast reports. “It’s like standoff at the OK Corral
here right now, press aren’t backing down from access to audio
recording,” said Alexandra Townsend, an organized labor activist who works for AFSCME.

When state Sen. Mike Parson, the committee chairman who has said he
is also seeking the Republican nomination for governor, arrived, he
reneged on the ban on audio recording, but kept in place a policy
banning anyone from filming the hearing or taking a photo.

The Missouri Sunshine Law states that, “a public body shall allow for
the recording by audiotape, videotape, or other electronic means of any
open meeting.” But, Senate rules require anyone wanting to film to
receive permission first, citing a provision in the Sunshine Law that
allows public bodies to “establish guidelines regarding the manner in
which such recording is conducted so as to minimize disruption to the

The Senate rule states that, “persons with cameras, flash cameras,
lights, or other paraphernalia may be allowed to use such devices at
committee meetings with the permission of the Chairman as long as they
do not prove disruptive to the decorum of the committee.”

Parson, in an interview after the hearing, said he has followed the
same camera policy all year: If someone wants footage of his hearing,
they can get it from the Senate.

“As long as the public is aware of everything that goes on, I think
you’re satisfying the right to know what’s going on there,” he said. “As
long as you’re filming it from beginning to end, I’m not sure you’re
taking away anyone’s ability to record — well, you are, but I’m saying
it’s there and anyone can get it.”

In some cases, however, it is not. Last month, the liberal advocacy group Progress Missouri filed a lawsuit against the Senate
in which they claimed the Senate did not provide “gavel to gavel”
footage of committee hearings and had blocked its staffers from filming
the hearings themselves.

Parson said, “if you were cutting out part of it, I’d see more of an
issue,” but said he had no problem barring cameras from the public
meetings if the Senate filmed them entirely. “You can still always come
in as a reporter and write or record — we never stopped any of that,” he

They did, however, stop people from taking photos. At least one person, Grace Haun, another Progress Missouri staff member, had her phone taken away when she refused to stop taking photos of the hearing.

Typically, Senate doormen cite a committee chairman’s discretion when
enforcing rules at hearings. But, Parson said he did not care much
about the cameras.

“There was no phones I asked to be taken today, period. I had no idea
of that,” he said. “We’re in a world of cell phones today, and everyone
probably knows if you’re out somewhere, someone is probably going to
snap a shot of you.”

Amid the controversy Monday and the pending lawsuit, Parson said he would be open to revisiting the issue next year.

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