Senators decry rule on filming, photographing meetings
Sens. Peter Wirth and Sander Rue went on the radio program News New Mexico this morning to decry a rule their colleagues passed that allows committee chairs or ranking members to shut down filming and photographing of public meetings.
Referring to an incident in which I was questioned by the chair and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee before I was allowed to photograph last week, Wirth said what is “particularly challenging” from a First Amendment standpoint is asking a person’s purpose in wanting to film or photograph – which happened to me.
“I think it goes too far, and we’re going to have some First Amendment issues,” said Wirth, D-Santa Fe and a lawyer. “I just don’t see how asking individuals what the purpose of their filming is, how that’s going to pass scrutiny.”
The N.M. Foundation for Open Government shares Wirth’s concerns.
Rue, R-Albuquerque, said making filming or photographing conditional is “almost more concerning to me than closing the whole thing up,” adding that, if it is conditional, “I don’t think you have transparency any more.”
Three senators voted against rule
Wirth and Rue were two of three members who voted last week against the Senate rule that gives chairs and ranking members the authority to stop a person from filming or photographing. The third was Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque. Four other members were absent or excused (see how each senator voted here).
Senate Rule 4 was sponsored by President Pro Tempore Tim Jennings, D-Roswell. Senate leaders from both parties pushed it in response to concerns about the governor’s webcasting of Senate committee meetings.
The governor had been filming committee meetings using public resources and, on her government website, posting the video along with comments about senators who supported her positions and opposed them. Wirth said many Democrats believed that was “being done in a pretty partisan manner,” but he added that people should be able to webcast committee meetings regardless of their motive.
‘I just think it sets a horrific tone’
Wirth said the Senate has slowly been moving toward more transparency, noting the webcasting from the Senate floor, but said there’s a ways to go.
Rue said many senators who haven’t served as long as the chamber’s leaders are more open to increased transparency. But most ended up following the Senate leaders on this issue.
“I think there are a lot of members that just kind of defer to leadership,” Rue said, adding that some feel the committee chairs “have a responsibility to maintain order and decorum,” and, in that context, “should have that latitude” to control who photographs and films meetings.
The incident involving me and the Senate Finance Committee isn’t the only time the tension surrounding this new rule has played out. Wirth said he witnessed some individuals wanting to webcast a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting being given “a pretty rigorous questioning before they were allowed to proceed.”
“I just don’t think the public is going to put up with this,” Wirth said. “…I just think it sets a horrific tone.”
You can listen to the full interview beginning about halfway through this podcast.
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