Reporters expecting to cover the 2014 General Assembly session will have to submit to a criminal background check, under new rules issued by the governor’s office and the Department of General Services.
A draft of the guidelines obtained by The Daily Record states that all reporters currently holding press credentials through the state, even if they have not yet expired, will have to apply for the new badges.
State officials said in October that the changes were needed to tighten security in the state government complex. The badges allow reporters to bypass security checkpoints when they enter state buildings and grant access to press areas in the state legislature.
The new rules come after it was reported in October that state officials were considering changes some saw as an attempt to bar partisan bloggers and other non-traditional media from covering the legislature and state government during an election year. One early proposal was a rule that would restrict media credentials to a handful of reporters who work year-round in the State House complex.
That rule is not part of the draft circulated to the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association. The rules also do not explicitly bar bloggers and other nontraditional media from obtaining the credentials.
Three years ago, the state was sued by Jay Liner, an attorney in Baltimore County who wrote a political blog. The state ultimately agreed to give Liner a credential, and the suit was withdrawn. Liner never used the credential to gain access to the State House or the press areas on the floor of the House of Delegates and Senate chambers.
Some worried that the move to change the rules this year was an attempt to create a government litmus test that would determine who is and is not a journalist.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new rules.
Jack Murphy, executive director of the press association, said the new policy “is reasonable and workable.”