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Liberal blogger granted press credentials in Iowa House days after filing lawsuit

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A liberal journalist who blogs about Iowa politics was granted press credentials for the Iowa House of Representatives Wednesday, days after she filed a lawsuit alleging the Republican-controlled House was denying her her First Amendment rights.

The result brings an end to a yearslong fight by Laura Belin, who operates the Bleeding Heartland blog, to gain access to the House floor as a member of the press. Belin called it a “victory for press freedom” and said she hoped it would make public officials “reluctant” to deny access to reporters.

The lawsuit was brought Friday in federal court by the Institute for Free Speech on her behalf against House Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson, though the rejection dates back to 2019 and Nelson's predecessor, Carmine Boal.

Nelson declined to comment.

Belin has covered Iowa's state government on the blog for more than a decade and now works as a reporter for a radio station based in Ames, about 35 miles (60 kilometers) north of the state capital Des Moines. She is open with her liberal views, often posting opinionated critiques that target Republican lawmakers and policies.

“This case underscores the First Amendment principle that public officials cannot manipulate press credential policies to play favorites or suppress critical coverage,” Courtney Corbello, an attorney with the Institute for Free Speech, said in a statement.

In 2019, the Iowa House and Senate adopted policies related to press access after scrutiny over the handling of Belin’s case. Those policies have been revised year after year, and the Senate has since reduced press access by denying reporters work space on the chamber floor in 2022 for the first time in a century.