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Governor shoots down bill proposing greater access to prison interviews

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Press at Home & Abroad         Sep 20, 1999    

Governor shoots down bill proposing greater access to prison interviews

  • Davis said reporters would have had greater access than family members and would make prisoners celebrities, while the national trend is to “reduce, not expand, rights of prisoners.”

Despite overwhelming public and legislative support, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed legislation in early September that would have restored the right of reporters to interview inmates inside state prisons. The bill, which was supported by journalists and major news organizations, sailed through the state Senate 28-7 and the Assembly by a vote of 69-7 before it was vetoed by the governor.

In explaining his action to legislators, Davis said the bill would give reporters more access to the inmates than that given to members of prisoners’ families and would promote prisoners’ celebrity at the risk of further pain to victims of crime and their families.

Davis added that reporters had ample opportunity to interview prisoners through means other than face-to-face interviews. “Moreover, this bill is inconsistent with the national trend to reduce, not expand, rights of prisoners,” Davis said in his message to legislators.

Supporters contended that the focus of the bill was the right of journalists to report on prisons and prisoners. Until 1995, the state had allowed face-to-face interviews with specified prisoners for more than 20 years. Former Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed a similar bill last year.

Davis’ veto sparked protest from the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “We are terribly disappointed that the governor has chosen to veto a bill that passed both houses with overwhelming bipartisan support,” said Tim Graham, president of the Northern California chapter. “It’s sad that Gray Davis the governor is not proving to be as good a friend of either the First Amendment or an informed electorate as he was while campaigning for his current position,” Graham added.

(A.B. 1440)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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