by Guy Page
Rep. Alice Emmons (D-Springfield) yesterday told the Joint Legislative Management Committee the press may need to physically stay out of the State House in 2022. In support of this possibility, she claimed that “not one press person has shown up” at the Vermont Legislative Advisory Committee meetings she has chaired this summer.
Lawmakers have been grappling all summer with making the State House safe from respiratory disease transmission but also open to the general public during working hours – as required by the Vermont Constitution.
“We want to make sure the press is available to our work,” Emmons said. “Now how that happens on their end – they could physically be in the building or they could do it by Zoom.”
And then, at about the 17:30 mark, Emmons made her surprising claim. “I must say in all the meetings we’ve had of the Advisory Committee… not one press person [gesturing with her index finger] has shown up at any of those. They’re all watching us either on live stream, or a few days later on YouTube, and then they write the story. So what’s going to happen? I’m surprised they haven’t been in the building for some of our deliberations.”
People listen when Alice Emmons talks about the state’s buildings. She chairs the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, which oversees all state-owned property – including the State House.
So is she right? Was the press an in-person no-show this summer?
Fact check: she’s wrong.
Vermont Daily Chronicle attended the July 20 hearing in Room 11. Here’s the link to our story. We even snapped this photo of Emmons and rest of the committee:
Rep. Emmons can perhaps be forgiven for not recognizing the Vermont Daily Chronicle Editor Guy Page, who was wearing a mask. Yet that didn’t stop other lawmakers from recognizing him. And he and veteran lawmaker Emmons have interacted in the State House for almost two decades, so simple non-recognition is unlikely.
No other reporters known to Page were physically present July 20.
Reporters like working in their pajamas as much as anyone else. But there’s a reason why they have been insisting on in-person access at Advisory Committee meetings.
Without being physically present a reporter can’t make eye contact with other people in the room, can’t talk with lawmakers or lobbyists in the hallway before and after the meeting.
They concede that technology does some things very well (like record video and provide written transcripts) but also creates a distance between elected officials and the press – and therefore, the readers and voters to whom both lawmakers and reporters are ultimately accountable.
Categories: State Government