When it comes to absurd regulations restricting perceived distractions, federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood may garner the most attention; but he certainly cannot claim a monopoly on really bad proposals.
Texas State Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) is sponsoring a bill that would prevent legislators from sending text messages, e-mails or any other form of electronic communication during a public meeting.
According to the Austin American Statesman, Hunter has concluded, “[I]t’s discourteous if you’re conducting business on a cellular phone or BlackBerry when somebody’s coming in to testify. You need to be focused on those people.” Hunter believes lawmakers should not be “communicating in a public setting with private interests, telling you how to vote, telling you how to think, telling you how to speak without that being open access to the public.”
There may well be abuse of electronic devices by elected officials during public meetings or in private; but it goes on in nearly every city council, county commission and state legislature in the country. However, we are dealing here with lawmakers who constantly are called on to perform constituent services, work on often complex legislative priorities, and who deal with myriad other issues that arise during any given day.
These requirements of their job may at times require them to divert their attention from committee hearings, which can often be mundane, even insufferable. Being able to catch up on some work on a laptop or Blackberry during an unusually boring or lengthy hearing can be a God send; certainly I found this to be the case during my years in the House of Representatives. Were Mr. Hunter in the U.S. House at the same time I was, he apparently would have tried to ban my congressional multi-tasking.
What’s next, charging a legislator with a criminal offense if he or she fails to devote their full attention to a witness appearing before a legislative committee; or being arrested if they talk to someone or write a note during an “official” hearing? Rep. Hunter perhaps soon will sponsor legislation requiring that notes written during a hearing be read aloud by the chairman, much like a grade school teacher dealing with an inattentive student.
Rep. Hunter may not be aware of it, but there actually are legislators who are able to “chew gum and walk” at the same time. Perhaps the Texas legislator is incapable of doing so, and maybe his jealously of those who are able to multi-task has led him to propose his absurd piece of legislation.
It also appears this particular elected official has way too much time on his hands; something always dangerous for government officials.
-by Bob Barr, The Barr code