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Eric Swalwell offers ‘mobile Congress’ legislation

Making good on a campaign promise, the East Bay’s freshman congressman has co-authored bipartisan legislation to let House members take part in hearings and cast some votes remotely, using teleconferencing and other technologies.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, and Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., on Friday introduced H. Res. 287, the Members Operating to Be Innovative and Link Everyone (MOBILE) Resolution. (Ah, they do love their acronyms in Washington, don’t they?)

Eric Swalwell“Companies and families across the country are using technology to communicate remotely and conduct business. There is no reason that the legislative branch of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy cannot do the same,” Swalwell said in his news release. “Our bill will allow Members of Congress to work more efficiently and stay better connected to our constituents. Northern Silicon Valley, where I represent, is leading a technological revolution and Congress shouldn’t be left behind. I pledged during the campaign that I would bring Congress into the 21st century and this is a first upgrade.”

Pearce asks voters to imagine the opportunity to discuss key legislation with their representatives just minutes before they vote. “Modern technology could make this kind of accountability a reality — allowing members of Congress to debate, vote, and carry out their constitutional duties without having to leave the personal contact of their congressional districts,” he said. “Keeping legislators closer to the people we represent would pull back Washington’s curtain and allow constituents to see and feel, first-hand, their government at work.”

The resolution would require that House members and invited witnesses be allowed to take part in committee hearings remotely, with such participation counting toward quorum rules. It also would mandate the development of a secure remote voting system which lawmakers could use to vote remotely on suspension bills, generally non-controversial bills that require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Swalwell had talked about this while on the campaign trail to unseat Rep. Pete Stark last year and since taking office has been using other technology to connect with constituents, including a Skype visit with Fremont City Council in March and – perhaps less momentous – using Twitter and Vine to post video of his vote on a controversial bill last month.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.