John Perez tries to block media from the Assembly

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John Perez
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This year, state Assembly Speaker John Perez reversed a protocol in the chambers by announcing a rule banning media interviews on the Assembly floor. He later amended it to require all conversations to be held in the back of the Assembly in a designated area, though he left intact a new rule that prevents reporters from approaching assembly members after the session has ended, leaving media to stand outside the chambers. This prevents Assembly members from being pinned down and forced to answer questions about their own actions. No such rule change has been proposed in the Senate.

Perez’s spokeswoman, Robin Swanson, says that this is being done to reduce noise, though the room was not louder than usual last year, and the noise issue still doesn’t explain why members can’t be approached after the session. Perez, who has a reputation for hating the press, isn’t saying what prompted these rules, but I can think of at least one incident that happened last year that highlighted the “dangers” of media on the Assembly floor.

In August 2012, the CNN show “Anderson Cooper 360” ran a segment about the Assembly vote on Senate Bill 1530. That bill would have made it easier to fire teachers accused of heinous acts against students. Proposed by Alex Pedilla, D-Los Angeles, in the wake of the tragic case of teacher Mark Berndt at Miramonte Elementary School, who is alleged to have taken pictures of himself abusing children. Rather than deal with the current onerous process of teacher termination, the district gave Berndt $40,000 to retire. Padilla’s bill would have amended that termination process and hopefully negated such payouts in the future.

But the bill died in the Assembly Committee on Education because four Democrats abstained from the decision — Betsy Butler, Wilmer Carter, Mike Eng and Das Williams.

Working for Cooper’s show, CNN reporter Kyung Lah wanted to talk to the “silent four” about their votes and the fact that the California Teachers Association, which opposed the bill, had contributed generously to each of their campaigns. 

Lah requested meetings with each member’s office and was denied. She then appeared at each office and was turned away. She was rebuffed by Carter in the hallway.

In a final attempt to confront the “silent four” she used a rule that allowed members of the media to go to the floor of the Assembly and request to speak with members by sending them notes. While Lah and her crew filmed, Carter and Eng ignored the request. Butler rolled her eyes. Finally, Williams agreed to speak, quickly and unspecifically repeating the union’s talking point that the bill was “overreach.”

The video was damning. In fact, Democrat Richard Bloom used it in his successful campaign to defeat Butler’s re-election.

And a few months later, Perez revealed new rules to limit media confrontations and conversations on the Assembly floor. Which makes it that much more difficult to ask him about the generous donations he receives from the teachers’ association and many other groups that may want rules to protect their lackeys.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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