The Ohio House last week adopted the rules that will guide its sessions and deliberations over the next two years.
Rule 123, near the end of the resolution, is worth a read. It notes, “Communications devices prohibited on House floor.”
More pointedly, it reads, “No telephones or other electronic communication devices (except for those used by the House in conducting its business) may be used on the floor of the House of Representatives during session for communication with persons inside or outside the hall of the House, unless authorized by the Speaker.”
It’s a funny rule, given the increasing use of smart phones in society in general. Try walking through a store without bumping into someone staring zombie-like at the screen in their hand.
Phones in hand
Lawmakers are no different (except, generally speaking, for the zombie-like part). Many have their phones in hand during sessions. Some send messages over social networking sites updating followers about legislative activities.
Rep. Jack Cera, a Democrat from Bellaire, brought the issue to light during the debate on the House rules.
“... It’s used a lot,” he said. “And if we’re going to have that in the rule, I guess I’m saying to the sponsor, should we take that out of the rules or punish our members like they do in high school and remove their electronic devices from them?”
(It’s not the first time the question has been asked. The issue was a topic of public debate several years back, in the midst of the Senate Bill 5 debate, after one lawmaker posted a comment online in the middle of then-Gov. Ted Strickland’s State of the State address.)
During last week’s session, Rep. Matt Huffman, a Republican from Lima, held up his phone and jokingly asked whether he could check his email before answering Cera’s question.
But humor aside, he said, there’s good reason for the rule. Majority and minority caucus leaders do not want to see published photographs of their members playing Solitaire or viewing inappropriate images in the midst of legislative debates.
And no one wants to get caught up in a scandal involving deep-pocketed campaign contributors sending text messages to lawmakers telling them how to vote on bills being considered on the floor.
“If we’re going to change it, we have to understand the ramifications of it,” Huffman said.
On the flip side, Huffman called smart phones important communications devices that he and others have used to contact aides or gather information.
“I think it’s something that needs to be managed and not abused,” Huffman said. “... If we want a hard-line enforcement of that, it could be difficult for everyone.”
Such issues are not a problem for Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder, whose public service stretches back decades.
“The Speaker has no knowledge whatsoever of any electronic devices,” Batchelder joked during last week’s session. “Light switches, that’s it.”