Let 'em type

You'd have thought he proposed leading in a


camel by a nose ring, given all the indignant and bipartisan opposition he aroused.


It turns out there is a Senate rule barring mechanical devices on the floor. Maybe the
rule was written in a time when senators dueled, and they wanted to keep pistols out of
the chamber.


One Senate Rules Committee member, Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.), cited the possibility of
distracting noises emanating from the computer [GCN, Nov. 11, Page 3].


Putting aside the possibility that much of the Senate's debate itself is mere noise,
I'd like to point out that the user can disable the keyboard clicking and the admittedly
obnoxious "Ta da!" that accompanies Microsoft Windows loading.


Besides, most notebooks have such short key travel that a typical typist can use one
almost silently. Even so, Enzi offered to enclose the machine in a mahogany box.


One wonders whether other mechanical aids will come under scrutiny. Hearing aids?
Multifunction watches? Calculators? Are mechanical pencils allowed, or only wooden ones?
What about pencil sharpeners?


Seriously, what is the harm in a senator taking notes or delivering prepared remarks
while using a computer?


I can understand the Senate's reluctance to have Internet connections or telephony on
the floor, but why not word processors or spreadsheets?


State governments are ahead of Washington when it comes to so-called chamber
automation.


The term doesn't refer to motion-sensitive plumbing devices found increasingly in
places such as airports. It refers to bringing modern communications tools to the floors
of legislative bodies.


Sixteen states have some degree of chamber automation. At press time, none of their
statehouses has shaken or collapsed. Fundamental rules covering issues such as voting or
seniority haven't changed.


The goal of floor automation is much more mundane.


In the words of Pam Greenberg of the National Conference of State Legislatures,
"It simply cuts down on all the paperwork involved in everyday legislation."


What a radical idea.


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