Ohio House Ways and Means Committee will allow reporters to record hearings after all

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- The Republican head of the Ohio House's Ways and Means Committee has changed his position on allowing reporters to record hearings after initially blocking such activities earlier in the week.

Mike Dittoe, spokesman for the chamber's majority caucus, said Rep. Jeff McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) changed his mind on the matter shortly after the panel began its hearing March 12 on Gov. John Kasich's mid-biennium review.

"Yesterday there was a misunderstanding between me and a reporter who is a member of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association about whether or not filming could take place during committee," McClain said in a released statement. "I did not want to run afoul of House rules, which gives exclusive rights to Ohio Government Telecommunications to film the House Finance and Appropriations Committee. However, upon further review of the House rules it was clear that filming by a member of OLCA was permissible. Within minutes of the committee starting, the reporter was notified that filming was permitted."

He added, "I regret the misunderstanding that occurred and always strive to maintain a good working relationship with the press. It should be made clear that at no time was any reporter or any member of the public denied access to the committee. This issue pertains solely to the ability to videotape the hearing. As such, members of OLCA will continue to be granted the ability to film this committee so long as prior notification is provided. The House has taken unprecedented steps to increase access to House committees, and I look forward to continuing that practice."

That was not the message McClain offered minutes before the hearing started, however, when he denied permission to the Statehouse bureau for Dix Newspapers and The Youngstown Vindicator to record testimony.

"I asked for the TV and I was told no," McClain said, referring to legislative rules that block Ohio Channel broadcast of hearings other than Finance Committee. "…We're not making any exceptions."

Pressed on whether the no-recording policy would cover future Ways and Means hearings, McClain responded, "I haven't given it enough thought. It's something I'll consider, just not today."

He added, "I did check with leadership and they're in agreement with supporting me on this."

But Dittoe said McClain, who was named chairman of the committee earlier this year, changed his stance shortly after making the comments and granted permission to Dix Newspapers and another reporter who had asked.

The March 12 Ways and Means Committee hearing was open to the public and took place at the Statehouse in the larger House Finance hearing room, which is equipped with cameras to allow public viewing.

The Ohio House has allowed cameras to stream and record Finance Committee hearings, but the chamber has not signed off on the broadcast of any other committees. The Ohio Senate does not allow broadcast of any of its committees.

Legislative rules allow recording of committee hearings by Statehouse reporters and others, with permission from panel heads. Members of the Statehouse press corps, including public radio reporters, generally are allowed to record sessions.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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