Senate likely to keep notebooks off its floor

During a terse committee discussion last month, the committee's chairman, Sen. John
Warner (R-Va.), and its ranking minority member, Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.), told Sen. Mike
Enzi (R-Wyo.) that they both would vote against his request.


Enzi said he wants to use his notebook on the floor to take notes and prepare for
speeches.


No rules directly mention the use of computers on the floor, but mechanical tools are
explicitly prohibited.


The committee has not scheduled a vote on the issue, but staff members said they expect
it will occur after lawmakers return in January from the winter recess.


In July, Warner asked sergeant at arms Gregory Casey for an opinion on Enzi's request.
Casey, quoting Rule IV in the Regulation of the Senate Wing, suggested the Rules Committee
might accept a limited use of notebooks as long as they are not connected to an outside
network [GCN, Oct. 20, Page 1].


Appearing before the Rules Committee, Enzi suggested the committee let senators with 35
or fewer staff members use their notebooks on the floor for the remainder of the 105th
Congress.


That limited experiment, he said, would answer one of their concerns: whether the use
of notebooks on the floor will distract members giving speeches. Enzi also offered to
build a mahogany box on his desk to cover the notebook to quell another concern that the
computer noise would bother some members.


Without asking questions, Ford and Warner said they were against both suggestions.


"I know changes are made slowly, but I know they have been made," Enzi said.
"I know there is concern out there that 100 senators will be using their laptops. I
don't think that's ever going to happen."


Ford said that though Enzi's rationale may be right, the time for his idea has not yet
come.


"I don't want to appear standing in the way of progress of technology, but it
appears this request is ahead of its time," Ford said. "We are not ready to have
a senator make noises on his computer while another is trying to do the best he can, make
a statement to represent his district and serve his country."


Warner was more emphatic in his opposition. He said that though Ford believes the
Senate may at some time let members use notebooks in chamber, "I will be very
doubtful that at anytime in the foreseeable future" the request will be granted.


Outside the committee room, Enzi said he would push for his idea through other less
formal channels.


"I will continue to talk about the capabilities that computers have that can
enhance the work that we as senators do, such as tracking bills and latest amendments
during floor debates," he said.


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