Aldermen pass new rules limiting lobbyists—and public—access

Aldermen pass new rules limiting lobbyists—and public—access

Supporters of new rules at the Board of Aldermen say limiting access to the board’s floor and gallery will keep pesky lobbyists off the floor when aldermen are deliberating. But some worry the new rules will also limit the public from seeing what lawmakers are up to.

“I would bet we’d get sued by the American Civil Liberties Union,” said 23rd Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro.

Last week, the board’s Democratic Caucus—essentially all 28 board members—voted to limit admission to the floor of the aldermanic chamber to members of the media with valid professional credentials, elected officials or honored guests. The measure defines honored guests as immediate family members or spouses of board members or individuals or groups being honored by a courtesy resolution. Those rules also now require anyone wanting to watch a meeting in the gallery to get a pass from an alderman or the board president.

The Board of Aldermen is to begin the new session and officially adopt the Rules of the Board of Aldermen for the 2019-2020 session on April 16. They are to go into effect on April 26.

Gallery access is sticking point for some. The gallery has been open to anyone. A news release issued by the office of Board President Lewis Reed said the new rules are the same as those for the U.S. House of Representatives. Reed’s Legislative Director Mary Ries said in an e-mail that Reed worked with Seventh Ward Alderman Jack Coatar to develop the rules.

“It’s primarily for safety and security reasons. In addition, many have been wanting to remove ‘lobbyists’ from the floor so this does that as well,” Ries said in an e-mail.

Alderwoman Megan Green (15th Ward) said she supports removing lobbyists from the floor but not the part about limiting access to the gallery.

“There were several aldermen who expressed concerns about this provision as well and are committed to amending this rule in committee once the Board gets back. The access of regular members of the public should not be restricted,” Green said in an e-mail.

“During my time at the board I have seen lobbyists intimidate and harass members of the board, and even sit at the desks of members of the board to draft amendments and advise them during debate,” said Green. “These actions blur the lines between if the board is acting on behalf of people or on behalf of monied interests.” 

But 28th Ward Alderwoman Heather Navarro said she agrees with all of the rules changes.

“We still have details to work out as to how people access the gallery but the overall ideas I am in agreement with. The gallery has limited space and if we didn’t set up a pass system it would fill up with lobbyists every Friday morning with no room for the public,” Navarro said in an e-mail.

“As always, our meetings are all live-streamed online so you can watch from anywhere,” Ries said. “Additionally, once a bill is on the floor, the public is not allowed to make any comments or influence the legislation at that point, which is how it’s always been. The public can always attend committee hearings to make comments on the bills.”

Each Aldermen gets 2 gallery passes,  Ries said. Passes also will be available at the president’s office the day of the meeting.

Fourteenth Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard said in an e-mail that in the past, some aldermen have felt intimidated by lobbyists and members of the general public on the floor.

“A few years ago there was a person that rushed the podium to get to President Reed but was intercepted by a marshal,” she said.

Legislation in the past sought to limit those who could be on the floor, Howard said. 

“It was not popular and most decided the issue is one for us to deal with in our rules; and the Board of Alderman did just that,” said Howard. “The changes in the gallery are only to allow those that wish to attend a place in the chamber for observation.”

All full Board of Aldermen meetings are live-streamed on YouTube and STL TV, city government’s TV station. Additional space will be available in the Kennedy Room for the public to view meetings live.

Cara Spencer, alderwoman from the 20th Ward, has long called for banning lobbyists from the floor of the aldermanic chambers, but she also objected to the rule change regarding the general public.

“I don’t support the pass system,” said Spencer. “But I’m glad to get the lobbyists off the floor.”