Byrd wants House members to have hand-held e-mail

Florida House speaker Johnnie Byrd wants all 120 state House members to have hand-held e-mail devices known as BlackBerries that would be paid for by tax dollars.

USA Today

Byrd said that the money would come from the existing discretionary budget for the House speaker’s office, a fund that had a $2 million surplus for the year.

The House hasn’t put bids out for the devices so it’s not clear how much they might cost. Individual lawmakers would be expected to pay $50 for e-mail service, which could come out of the lawmaker’s expense account, but the House would buy the device and software under Byrd’s proposal.

So far the proposal is just that and a final decision on buying them hasn’t been made, said Byrd’s spokeswoman, Nicole de Lara.

Instant two-way e-mail communication would help legislators, Byrd said in a recent e-mail to House members.

"Knowing the fast pace and heavy demands on your time resulting from being a ‘part-time legislator,’ I have made arrangements to offer each member a BlackBerry 6510," Byrd wrote Aug. 19. "With this device your staff can communicate with you anywhere, any time, without the interruption of a cell phone call."

Senate leaders and Gov. Jeb Bush’s office said neither has considered purchasing hand-held e-mail devices with public money.

Bush uses a BlackBerry while traveling, but he pays for the device himself, spokeswoman Alia Faraj said.

House members already have cell phones and laptops with Internet access in their offices and on the floor during sessions. They can charge all legislative-related cellular calls to the state.

Byrd (R-Plant City), who is running for U.S. Senate, has made increasing House members’ ability to communicate with constituents a top priority.

He expanded the House public relations office from two to 13 staff members, including a full-time video producer and has sent out mass mailings to voters explaining his positions on various issues, using taxpayer money.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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