New rules to allow Blackberries, iPads on House floor

By David Edwards
Friday, December 24, 2010 12:35 EDT
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The tech revolution is about to come to the US House of Representatives and it could mean more tweets from your favorite congressperson.

Under recently proposed rules for the 112th Congress, mobile electronic devices like BlackBerries and iPads will be allowed on the House floor.

Rules for the 111th Congress (.pdf) state that no person shall “smoke or use a wireless telephone or personal computer on the floor of the House.”

But the wording has been slightly modified for the new Congress. “A person on the floor of the House may not smoke or use a mobile or electronic device that impairs decorum,” the new rule reads.

The phrase “that impairs decorum” is intended to allow for silent mobile devices, GOP transition team spokesman Brendan Buck told techPresident.com’s Nancy Scola.

“The definition of what is ‘disruptive of decorum’ will likely evolve over time,” Buck said in an email. “But of course devices are not to make sound and members are not to be speaking on their phones while on the floor.”

“If a member wants to read an amendment, for example, on their iPad, that would be allowed,” he added.

Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation, suspects that the consequences will be mixed.

“If a staff member can send a note to his or her boss on the floor, why not an email?” he offered. “And paper copies of bills in the Chamber may become less prevalent as the House moves toward making them available electronically for mobile devices.”

“It could also become much easier for representatives to see in real time how bills are being amended. This will put more information at the hands of representatives at the crucial moment,” he continued.

“Of course, it also may make them more susceptible to outside pressure,” Schuman said, noting that the rule change could give lobbyists and special interest groups another avenue to influence legislation.

“Now, lawmakers who are giving a speech from the podium will have to work harder for the attention of their colleagues,” The New York Times Michael Shear observed. “When the C-Span cameras pull out for the crowd shot of the chamber, one can imagine seeing the tops of a sea of heads, looking down at their devices rather than forward toward the lectern.”

Legislative bodies in the UK and Australia, as well as many US states, already allow electronic devices, which sometimes has caused embarrassment.

Last year, lawmakers in the Connecticut legislature were seen playing solitaire and reading ESPN.com. In May, a state senator from Florida, Mike Bennett, was caught viewing a photo of topless women.

“I opened it up and said holy shit! What’s on my screen? and clicked away from it right away,” Bennett said.

David Edwards
David Edwards
David Edwards has served as an editor at Raw Story since 2006. His work can also be found at Crooks & Liars, and he's also been published at The BRAD BLOG. He came to Raw Story after working as a network manager for the state of North Carolina and as as engineer developing enterprise resource planning software. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidEdwards.
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