Senate: Nix notebooks on floor

Despite growing pressure to embrace technology in all sectors of government members of the Senate Rules Committee agreed last week that laptop computers should not be allowed on the Senate floor. The agreement came in response to a request by Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) that the committee allow him to use his computer on the Senate floor to track bills and keep notes. Committee chairman Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and Minority Leader Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.) agreed that such actions run contrary to the traditions of the legislative body.

A committee spokesman said he expected members to vote on Enzi's request as early as this week. But he said it appeared likely that the majority would vote against laptops.

"There is a fear that the presence of laptops could interfere with the senators' interpersonal communications " the committee spokesman said. There is a concern that individual senators working on laptops may be less approachable - in the same way you would not approach someone who is on the phone."He added that some members fear the clicking of computer keys would distract speakers as well as those who are trying to listen to speeches.

Warner staunchly objected to Enzi's request but Ford was more conciliatory. Although he deferred to Warner's viewpoint he hinted that he might support future requests of this kind.

"I don't want to appear to be standing in the way of progress and technology " Ford said in a prepared statement. "This committee will continue to wrestle with the trade-offs of allowing members to take advantage of new technologies while preserving the history and decorum of the Senate Chamber. It appears this request is a little ahead of its time."

A spokesman for Enzi said the senator was disappointed but would continue his attempts to convince his colleagues of computers' usefulness.

"He's certainly not planning on just forgetting about it " the spokesman said. "He uses his laptop like others use notebook and paper. Unfortunately they have frowned upon that."

Enzi does not plan to request a vote on the question because he realizes he is outnumbered by opponents of laptops on the floor the spokesman said. "[Enzi] knows how to count votes and it wouldn't do much good to request a vote when he knows that vote will be negative " he said.

He added that Enzi wants to avoid angering the committee's leadership by pushing the issue too hard and hopes to enlighten his colleagues through a continuing dialogue. "Hopefully time will bring them around " the spokesman said.

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