"I think it is an area where the House will have to make a decision," Valentino-Smith said. "Certainly we operate with a lot of unwritten rules for respect. … Each member of the legislature will have to make a decision about how those general rules of decorum apply to the evolving opportunities we have to use social media."

Not surprisingly, the most sophisticated tweeters tend to be the youngest lawmakers. They also tend to be the newer members of the General Assembly, and several said they feel more comfortable tweeting their opinions than standing to say them aloud on the House or Senate floor.

"You aren't going to get up on every bill," said Del. Michael J. Hough, a Western Maryland Republican who sits next to Ready and tweets during some floor debates. Baltimore's Ferguson agreed — he recently tweeted about legislation that would make it easier for people to defend themselves against costly defamation lawsuits.

More senior lawmakers who tweet add that speaking too frequently in the chamber can diminish one's effectiveness. They want to reserve a floor speech for a high-impact argument. "You can't just keep jumping up on the floor," said Del. Heather Mizeur, a sophisticated tweeter.

Even though tweets are short, the informal nature of the medium allows lawmakers to let down their guard a smidgen and show some personality.

Sitting though an 11-hour hearing on the same-sex marriage bill, Del. Kirill Reznik, a Democrat from Montgomery County, expressed surprise at testimony on reasons for divorce. "Dude just said that the leading cause of divorce is that 'they don't know how to argue,'" he tweeted.

Later, as another witness employed a tortured metaphor, Reznik wrote: "Now the anti-marriage folks are comparing marriage equality to the Italian captain of the Costa Concordia. Oy Vey."

In an interview last week, Reznik said that he feels Twitter allows a more candid conversation among people who normally communicate formally. He hopes he can joke a little without offending.

"I'd like to believe I'm a funny guy and have a sense of humor," Reznik said. "There are people out there who would disagree. … We are human beings."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

http://www.twitter.com/annielinskey

Here are examples of recent Twitter exchanges between lawmakers

•March 16, 2012

Del. Eric Luedtke (D- Montgomery County): Bill in cmte right now would add a 6th md casino at nat'l harbor. Your thoughts?

Sen. Bill Ferguson (D- Baltimore): Only if funding of preK-for-all is "on the table."

•March 14, 2012, as Gov. Martin O'Malley was testifying in support of the gas tax:

Del. Justin Ready (R-Carroll County): Ask @GovernorOMalley how much of the increase will go into new roads/road repair/improvements vs mass transit.

Del. Patrick Hogan (R- Frederick County): Del. Vitale asked that ? and he said we have set transit as a priority, so he will continue to disproportionately fund transit.

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