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Blogger denied Iowa House credentials

Claims it's due to critical coverage of the GOP.

Posted: Jan 25, 2019 11:53 AM

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The Republican-controlled Iowa House is denying press credentials to an influential liberal blogger who has covered the Legislature for years.

Laura Belin, who operates the Bleeding Heartland blog , said the House chief clerk hasn't cited any valid reason for the denial, which she suspects is tied to her critical coverage of Republican leaders and policies. Belin, who has reported on the Legislature since 2007, has appealed the decision and is considering legal action.

Belin applied for formal credentials for the first time to cover this session, which would grant her work space and easier access to briefings with key lawmakers, among other things. Staff in the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate indicated that her request would be granted for that chamber. But Carmine Boal, the chief clerk of the Iowa House, told Belin in a Jan. 3 email that "press credentials are not issued to members of the public."

Esteemed Iowa news executive Michael Gartner has praised Belin's political reporting and national publications have recognized her work. She routinely breaks news and writes in-depth analyses of legislation and campaigns. While the Legislature is in session, her blog typically gets 1,500 or more unique visitors, including lawmakers, staffers and other insiders.

Belin is open about her liberal views and compares herself to reporters for left-leaning publications such as Mother Jones and The Nation. Iowa House rules do not define who qualifies as a member of the press and other non-traditional outlets have been granted credentials in the past.

"The fact that I don't pretend to be objective, that I don't hide my opinion about some of the political issues I cover, I don't think that should have any bearing on whether I am considered a member of the media," she said.

Belin has been critical of Democratic lawmakers, as well, including pieces in which she called for the resignation of a Democratic senator accused of sexual misconduct and criticized some Democratic legislators for not raising enough money to help their party compete with the GOP.

Boal told Belin in a follow-up email about the denial that the House has used Congressional rules governing press galleries for guidance. But those rules wouldn't appear to bar Belin, either, as they require credentials to be granted to applicants who are engaged in news reporting.

Belin has asked Boal to reconsider the decision several times over the last three weeks, but Boal hasn't responded. Belin, whose late father founded one of Iowa's most prominent law firms, says she has consulted with an attorney about taking legal action but hopes it doesn't come to that.

"I would hope they would recognize they are not entitled to making a content-based speech restriction," said Belin, who previously covered Russian politics as a staff member and freelancer for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Boal hasn't responded to Associated Press inquiries about the denial.

Belin said the slight isn't going to affect her coverage of the Legislature, which started its session earlier this month.

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