KUNM Live

Senators Threaten Press Freedom By Kicking Reporter Out Of Committee Meeting

Feb 7, 2020

New Mexico Senators asked a local news reporter to leave a committee meeting Thursday at the Roundhouse, citing a Senate rule that bars recording these public meetings without permission from the head of the committee. 

Lawyers say this may be a violation of First Amendment freedom of the press, and some lawmakers want the rule changed to allow full transparency. 

Reporter Rachel Knapp with KRQE-TV News 13 was recording the Senate Conservation Committee when Sen. Antoinette Sedillo López (D-Albuquerque) halted a discussion about a hazardous waste bill.

“I hate to interrupt,” Sedillo Lopez is heard saying in the KRQE broadcast, “but there’s someone filming, and I was wondering if you got permission, or if you wanted to request permission.”

“I just figured it was a public meeting,” said Knapp, behind the camera. She was asked to leave after Sen. Pat Woods (R-Broadview) also expressed concern about her recording.

Committee meetings at the Roundhouse are generally webcast live on the legislative website.

This isn’t the first time legislative leaders have asked local reporters to leave a public meeting. Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) in 2018 tried to stop KUNM reporters from recording an education committee meeting inside an elementary school gym in Albuquerque. 

The New Mexico Open Meetings Act says people are allowed to make audio and video recording of any public meeting except for if the Legislature or the courts make their own rules about it.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn from Las Cruces is pushing back against that exception. He’s introduced a Senate measure that would allow people to record committee meetings without permission. 

Attorney Greg Williams, who’s on the board of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, says limiting public access to legislative proceedings may be unconstitutional. 

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This story is part of the project: Your N.M. Government. Funding for our legislative coverage is provided, in part, by the Thornburg Foundation, the New Mexico Local News Fund and KUNM listeners like you.