First Amendment Coalition Of Arizona Demands Gowan Back Down From Background Check Policy

By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Monday, April 11, 2016 - 10:34am

The First Amendment Coalition of Arizona is demanding state House Speaker David Gowan rescind his policy of requiring extensive background checks of reporters before restoring their access to the floor.

Gowan last week said only those reporters who agreed to criminal, civil and driving record checks could have floor access. That access is crucial for reporters to be able to question lawmakers about their legislation and speeches.

But attorney Dan Barr said the real problem is that the new policy says conviction of certain crimes automatically disqualifies someone getting on the floor. That includes assault, rape and trespass.

Capitol Times reporter Hank Stephenson has a conviction of second degree trespass, from what's described as a bar fight. Stephenson was the first to report on Gowan spending more than $12,000 on travel expenses, much of it in the congressional district where he's campaigning.

Barr said the background checks are little more than pretext.

"If everybody signs this and has the check done it's clearly aimed at Stephenson," Barr said. "You can't do such measures if it's aimed at a particular reporter in retaliation for whatever he or she is doing."

Barr said if the speaker does not back down, he faces a possible lawsuit. There was no response from Stephanie Grisham, the House Republican publicist.

The House reconvenes Monday afternoon, without reporters on the floor for the time being.

EDITOR'S NOTE: KJZZ is a member of the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona.

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