House rules: Hang up or pay up

You’ve probably witnessed this before: The sudden, obnoxious burst of a cell phone ringtone, immediately followed by the offender clumsily scrambling to quiet it. This may happen during a meeting or some other inappropriate setting.

Usually the scene amounts to little more than a brief annoyance. During House Democrats’ caucus meetings, the offense carries a stiff penalty.

That’s because members observe a rule that imposes a $25 fine on anyone whose phone lets fly an errant ring, said Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. Some have chosen to pay their restitution in the form of food.

Moeller said about a dozen people have been penalized for ringing phones in Democratic caucus meetings this year. The result has been a sampling of bagels, sausage and other foods for the group. But Moeller said he hasn’t noticed a phone interrupt a House floor session this year.

And Moeller, for the record, said he’s never had to pony up.

“I turn mine off,” he said.

Eric Florip

Eric Florip

I'm the environment/transportation reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. Contact me at or 360-735-4541.

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