When the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee meets in Topeka, its members will not be distracted. At least not by individuals texting or checking out social media sites from their phones.
The committee chair, Rep. Arlen Siegfreid of Olathe, laid down the order last week.
"They need to pay attention to what is going on," Siegfreid said in an interview. "If they want to do Facebook and Twitter, they can get up and leave."
The veteran legislator's directive wasn't motivated solely by his desire for full attention by fellow committee members. Also of concern was the ability for lobbyists to contact lawmakers during hearings.
Siegfreid will allow the elected officials to utilize state-issued laptops for such purposes, presumably because most people have different online practices when the device is not their own.
The panel chair's move is interesting for at least a couple of reasons.
First is that such a directive needs to be issued at all. If lawmakers are that engaged with their online social life that it distracts from their work, we truly have arrived at a sad point in history. These individuals are sent to Topeka to do the work of the people of Kansas, not to amuse their online friends. For that, Siegfreid was spot on.
On the other hand, it seems odd that these particular practices were singled out. Should other inattentive legislators take to doodling on notepads or attempting to scan the crowd in the gallery for familiar faces be subject to similar bans? If a panel member isn't engaged enough by the process or the subject matter, perhaps Federal and State Affairs isn't for them and the chair simply should toss them off the committee.
One of the affected lawmakers, Rep. Brett Hildabrand of Shawnee, vowed to fight for "transparency" in the committee. Hildabrand, reported to be a regular user of social media, has taken to Twitter for the battle.
There is no word whether Siegfreid and Hildabrand, currently friends on Facebook, will remain that way going forward.
If much time is spent on such matters at the statehouse, stated optimism for an 80-day session will go unfulfilled.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry