Saturday, September 25, 2021 7:45 pm

Senate closes doors on transparency

“It’s just a natural impulse among governmental officials to do things behind closed doors to the extent that they can,” First Amendment attorney Dan Barr said. / Flickr

By Julia Shumway | Arizona Capitol Times

On the last day of the legislative session, a music teacher who had spent the week stationed outside the Senate playing the flute in a solo budget vigil asked if she could come inside to fill her water bottle. 

The answer she received from Senate security was the same countless other Arizonans heard this spring: the Senate was closed to the public on the orders of President Karen Fann, and no one was allowed in without her express permission – not to get water, not to use the restroom and not to watch her government work. 

Months after the Senate lifted other Covid restrictions, doing away with requirements to wear masks or keep distance at meetings, the building remained locked and historically public caucus meetings continued being held behind closed doors, without even a video stream for Arizonans to see what happened. 

On June 30, minutes before ending the legislative session and not long after a Democratic senator brought that music teacher water, the Senate abruptly repealed its Covid rules. The building is now open, and Fann said public access to meetings and the building will be fully restored when the Legislature returns next January. 

But now that lawmakers have had a taste of legislating away from the watchful gaze of onlookers in the gallery and without the risk of reporters or lobbyists cornering them in the hallway, some who have been locked out fear that they won’t give up on secrecy.

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