The Missouri Senate wants to be a low-tech, traditional, chamber. The question is how low does it want to go? The Senate has repeatedly rejected efforts to install electric voting boards or to allow Senators to have laptop computers at their desks. It still insists on verbal roll calls and has only recently started using clip-on microphones during debate. Traditionalists say laptop computers would be distractions, would make it too easy for lobbyists outside the chamber to influence debate more than they already do, would create ethical questions about proper use. But Senator Chuck Purgason of Caulfield wants to go further. Purgason, who says he thought blackberries were something people made pies out of when he first arrived in the legislature, says size matters—and if the senate wants to ban something big like laptop computers, it also should ban small things that can do the same things laptops can do—including cell phones or any other kind of hand-held messaging devices. But Lee’s Summit Senator Matt Bartle wants laptops…and blackberries…and cell phones….He says Senators would stay in the chamber more if they could work on constituent issues during debate. Bartle, with his tongue somewhat in his cheek, thinks Purgason’s proposal will mean only four Senators will be in the chamber during debate, instead of the six that are sometimes there now. Purgason also favors allowing laptops at Senators’ desks…but the Senate has voted 24-9 against the idea, triggering his suggestion the Senate ban the use of any electronic devices by its members. The senate could decide on his motion to go lower tech before it goes home this week.
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