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Williams: AP Reporter Deserves No Punishment (UPDATED)

…UPDATED: Rep. Joe Towns, a Democrat from Memphis, the sponsor of the resolution aiming to revoke the chamber media credentials of Associated Press reporter Erik Schelzig, withdrew the proposal Monday night on the floor of the House of Representatives….

House lawmakers from both parties were fuming last week that a reporter tried to take pictures of their leader collapsed on the chamber floor as a result of what later proved to be low blood sugar. But House Speaker Kent Williams himself on Monday said the reporter in fact did nothing wrong.

Except for maybe climbing on the furniture, Williams said — although he added that he hasn’t actually viewed the video of the event.

The House speaker told TNReport Monday he is urging the sponsor of a resolution to revoke reporter Erik Schelzig’s House press credentials to drop the matter.

“I don’t have any problem with him trying to take a picture,” said Williams. “He was just doing his job. I’ll protect his First Amendment rights, you know, to do his job.”

Moments after Speaker Williams’ knees buckled while in the middle of a vote in the House of Representatives Friday, a number of lawmakers quickly came to his aid at the podium.

Meanwhile, Schelzig was in the press box behind a wall of glass panels. He then climbed on his chair and took pictures with his digital camera above the glass.

Legislators standing around the House floor who saw Schelzig documenting the tense event began shouting at him to stop taking pictures. They quickly then rushed the press box, demanding he be removed.

Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, later filed a HR371 asking the press corps chairman to ban Schelzig from accessing the House floor. Schelzig currently himself serves as the legislative press corps chairman.

Laura Leslie, the president of Capitolbeat, the national association of state capitol reporters and editors, penned a letter to Williams Monday voicing opposition to HR371, declaring that the event was “no doubt an alarming moment for many, and emotions were running high. But Mr. Schelzig was just doing his job, ‘despicable’ or ‘distasteful’ as some representatives found it. The Speaker’s health IS news.”

Williams said it may have been inappropriate for Schelzig to climb up on the furniture to snap a photo, but said he has not seen the video.

“It’s over. It’s done. Let’s just get past it and move on,” he said.

Andrea Zelinski can be reached at andreazelinski@tnreport.com.