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Delegates Defend Internet Use on the Floor

Earlier today Post reporter Amy Gardner posted a video by a student journalist that takes a closer look at footage from the House of Delegates to find what the politicians are browsing on their state-issued laptops, finding several of them -- including Northern Virginia delegates Albert Eisenberg and Robert Brink of Arlington, David Englin of Alexandria, Mark Sickles of Franconia, Dave Albo of Springfield and Kristen Amundson of Mt. Vernon -- shopping, reading the news or on social networking sites.

The journalist, Tracy Kennedy of Virginia Commonwealth University, closed the video by suggesting the state might need to block such sites to keep delegates on task.

Three of the delegates featured in the video took exception to that assessment.

Albo added a comment to this morning's post, explaining that the House was taking a break at the time while waiting for the Senate to act on a bill, and that he was looking at real estate at the request of a constituent.

"The 'reporter' did not give any subject of the report an opportunity to respond," Albo wrote. "Just a slam piece taken out of context."

Englin, who was spotted using Facebook, said he frequently Twitters or uses social networking sites from the floor of the House.

"As we're dealing with issues on the floor I can get real-time feedback from constituents," Englin said. "I make no apologies for using Web 2.0 technology to improve the way I represent my constituents."

Englin said that attempts to restrict what delegates could access would hinder his ability to do his job, and that there is ample dead time during the assembly's daily sessions.

"I don't see much difference between [using the Internet] and reading a copy of The Washington Post on the floor," he said. "We all have lives or jobs in addition to being members of the General Assembly, and if a representative is spending a few minutes looking at something other than a list of bills, I think constituents would be forgiving of that."

Amundson said no votes are held during the morning sessions, so it's easy for the delegates to focus on other things. The video found her browsing business headlines on Boston.com.

"I do not pay word-for-word attention to the introduction of every visiting fireman and city councilman from across the state. It's nice, and I'm glad they're there, but I can multitask," Amundson said. "The journalist needs to walk a mile in my black pumps before she decides to tell me how I should spend my time."

Brink, Eisenberg and Sickles did not respond to requests for comment today.

While the Maryland General Assembly briefly blocked MySpace and Facebook in February because of security concerns, Englin noted that the federal government signed an agreement with Facebook last week so that the executive branch could use it to communicate better with the public.

Englin said that he had invited Kennedy, the student journalist who produced the clip, to come to the Capitol and shadow him for a day and see how his constituents benefit from his use of social networking applications.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  April 16, 2009; 7:35 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2009  
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