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Is it time for laptops in the Mo. Senate?

Is it time for laptops in the Mo. Senate?

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JEFFERSON CITY • It's time for the Missouri Senate to put down the Big Chief tablets and No. 2 pencils.

So says Sen. Chuck Purgason, who argued in a hearing the other day that his fellow senators need to join the 21st century.

The Caulfield Republican is the sponsor of Senate Resolution 178, which would change the rules of the Senate to allow senators to use laptops on the Senate floor.

Those who don't follow the Missouri Senate closely might be surprised to hear that in the age of technology, senators aren't already using laptops. After all, House members have been using them for years.

But the Senate has held to the tradition that while in the chamber, senators should be paying attention to debate. Each year for the past several years, a group of senators argue that technology would allow for better, more informed debate, and each year, the effort is tamped down.

This year probably won't be any different.

The session is already 2 months old, and the Senate, under a new leader, hasn't even adopted any new rules, something that normally would happen in the first couple of weeks.

Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, the president pro tem of the Senate, said he's had more "pressing issues" to deal with.

"I'm not sure there is anything in the rules that needed to be changed," Mayer said.

Purgason sees it differently, and he's bringing a new argument to the forefront for laptops this year.

It's discriminatory not to allow them, he argued before a Senate committee last week.

"Size matters," Purgason told his fellow senators. "You can sit there and surf the Internet and do everything on a Palm Pilot or a BlackBerry you could do with a laptop. It's discriminatory to people who can't see on those little things."

Indeed, over the past couple of years, it has been common to see senators typing away on tiny BlackBerry keyboards while debating a bill.

So the argument that senators would be distracted by laptops carries no weight with Purgason.

"I want to be able to have the tools to do my job and be on the floor," he said.

Majority Floor Leader Tom Dempsey, a St. Charles Republican, seemed to agree with Purgason, calling the current Senate rules "archaic." And so did Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City.

In fact, Justus raised an interesting point.

Like many in the Capitol — from senators to lobbyists to reporters — Justus has begun using an Apple iPad for her work, a device more related to the ubiquitous smart phones seen in the building than the banned laptop. Justus suggested that she could probably get away with using an iPad on the Senate floor, because it isn't quite a laptop, even though it does nearly everything a laptop does.

While some would see the Senate debate over laptops as a silly one — particularly when reporters sitting at the Senate press table use the contraptions — some senators take the question very seriously.

Those opposed to the idea believe laptops would take away from the more deliberative nature of the Senate, where the discussions about the merits of a bill are often much more in depth than the theater of the House.

"There is a compelling argument to be made that a senator sitting there listening to the debate is engaged at a different level," said Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah.

Purgason's proposal hasn't yet been voted out of committee.

If the resolution does make its way to the floor, however, don't expect Purgason or Justus or anybody else to wave around an iPad or laptop to help make their point.

The Senate, you see, doesn't allow props, either.

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