This week, the California Assembly speaker announced an intention to prohibit members from sending texts to or receiving texts from lobbyists when they are "doing the people's business," that is, in a committee meeting or on the Assembly floor.
According to the Sacramento Bee, Speaker John A. Perez has left the details of how to enforce the ban to the Assembly's rules committee, but notes that he will go so far as to ban cell phones or other messaging devices from the floor if it comes to that.SiliconValley.com quotes Perez this way:
Californians expect us to pay full attention to the issues and to each other. They need not worry that special interest lobbyists are secretly sending messages of support or opposition to us while we deliberate.
But because the prohibition applies only to communications with lobbyists while in committee or on the Assembly floor, and not to all texts sent or received during those times, even the Assembly's Chief Sergeant-at-Arms, Ronald Pane, says:
We're doing so many things at one time that we're going to have to have a set of eyes just for that.
So instead of hiring extra staff to monitor Assembly members' texting activity or requiring them to give up their devices completely while they're in committee or on the floor, why not take a completely different approach? Peter Scheer of the First Amendment Coalition told SiliconValley.com:
If you're really serious about chilling relationships between lobbyists and elected officials, then you get more serious about disclosure.
The San Jose City Council adopted a policy this week that does just that. Council members must"disclose communications received on their personal e-mail or cell phones during meetings - either from lobbyists or from others with a financial interest in the matter under discussion."
Actually, the disclosure approach would work better than a complete ban in any environment where conflicts of interest or other questionable behavior is a risk. Just like social networking is inevitably part of the business equation now, so is texting. Companies, like state legislatures or city councils will need to decide how to best address it.