Blackberry addiction to be studied

Published: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 1:20 a.m.
For Gov. Jeb Bush, a press conference earlier this month announcing a push to boost minority university enrollment was a big deal.
The meeting took place in the basement of the Capitol, where more folks could attend. Dozens of students, lawmakers, university officials and members of the Legislature were on hand.
But not all were tuned in. As Bush spoke to a room filled with silent listeners, Rep. Ralph Arza, R-Hialeah, idly fiddled with his Blackberry, staring at it intently as the governor spoke.
Arza wasn't available for comment last week, and we don't want to pick on him. He's certainly not alone in his affinity for the gizmo.
The Blackberry, and other handheld devices, has become a contraption as mandatory in the Capitol as a tie and polished loafers. Lobbyists hunched over the tiny screen bump into each other as they mill the atrium between the House and Senate chambers on the fourth floor. And lawmakers stroke and prod their Blackberries during committee meetings. That has Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and other lawmakers a bit concerned.
Lee has asked the incoming Senate president, Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, to study the need for a policy on the use of the devices. "While there is no question that improved communication has made us more effective," Lee wrote, "I am concerned with how this technology has impacted the decorum during committee and floor proceedings."
While Lee didn't cite any specific examples of problems, some have grumbled about lawmakers fingering their Blackberries in committees while people who have traveled hundreds of miles to Tallahassee are speaking.
Like cell phones, Blackberries can also interfere with microphones and sound systems in the Capitol. And others assert that lobbyists or others suggest questions with a quick e-mail via a Blackberry for lawmakers to pose during debate over issues. "If that's happening, it shouldn't," Pruitt said. "I've not seen it."
He said senators should be respectful to those who are speaking before them. "To me, it's more about being courteous to the presenter and making sure we're paying attention," he said. "We're just trying to raise the sensitivity level on this."
Lawmakers aren't allowed to use cell phones in the chambers, nor do they use them in committee rooms. And while they have computers on their desks in the House and Senate, they're generally not brought to committee hearings.
For his part, Pruitt said he's a "late bloomer" convert to the Blackberry as a time saver. "Every time I get on the phone, that conversation lasts at least five minutes," he said. "On this thing, I can just blare back."
Good, bad news A new poll offered some hope and some obstacles to Democrats as they seek to win back the governor's office this year.
The poll, conducted Jan. 2-5 by Republican strategist Geoffrey Becker, showed on a generic ballot that Floridians favored an unnamed Democratic candidate for governor over an unnamed Republican by a 41-36 percent margin. Becker said the numbers reflected a national trend and although the gap was a little smaller in Florida it was still enough to raise concerns for the GOP.
But the poll showed the Democrats have plenty to worry about, too. Among likely Democratic voters in the Sept. 7 primary, 75 percent said they were still unsure about either Democratic candidate - U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa and state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua.
"There are pockets of support for both around the state but even among hardcore Democratic primary voters, more than seven in 10 are still unsure," Becker said. "The bottom line is that this primary has barely begun."
On the Republican side, there is less uncertainty with two candidates who have run statewide before - Attorney General Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher. Only 49 percent of the GOP voters said they were unsure at this point.
In the head-to-heat matchups, Davis had a 14-11 percent advantage over Smith and Gallagher led Crist by 28-23 percent.
Compiled from reports by Joe Follick and Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Tallahassee Bureau.

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