State legislatures becoming cell-free zones

Electronic devices are taking away from the deliberative (and anachronistic) nature of legislative bodies, some fear. A ban on cells, emails and PDAs is seen as a return to civility.

Across the country, state legislatures are taking action to free the people's chambers from cellphones, emails, pagers and PDAs, Stateline reports.

Maine’s House of Representatives is the latest to join the legislative rebellion against the myriad intrusions of the Digital Age. It acted after a representative observed lobbyists emailing legislators as they debated bills. Also this year, the Oregon Senate has barred "cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices that detract from the decorum" of their august body, copying a rule that was already in place in that state's House.

Colorado and North Carolina have also banned electronics from their state senates.

"We're a deliberative body, and when you're in [the chamber] you're supposed to be listening," said North Carolina Sen. Tony Rand (D).
North Carolina will probably allow computers on the senate floor but not Internet or email. Thirteen of the more than 70 statehouse chambers that allow computers on the floor already bar Internet access or e-mail during sessions.

In some states the sanctions are strict.

In the Washington state Senate, the presiding officer can order the sergeant at arms to arrest any person that disrupts even committee hearings by using their cell phone. In Colorado, the Senate president can permanently confiscate any electronic device if a member breaks that state's expansive rules against outside communications.

One lobbyist is just fine with the new restrictions.

"I didn't grow up to be a receptionist," said Maryland uber-lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, explaining that he doesn't want to be a slave to a cell phone. Bereano, who is perennially one of Maryland's top 10 lobbyists, said face-to-face interaction is how he does business, and constantly answering a phone or thumb-typing emails can be downright rude.

"These equipment have sprouted up with such pervasiveness, before any rules of etiquette developed," he said.

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