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New Missouri law allows voting by videoconference

Veto override lets officials use newer technology

Beginning next month, elected officials can vote in a meeting by videoconference, because lawmakers last week overrode one of Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes.

“There are 35 states within this nation that have videoconferencing,” state Sen. Maria Chappelle Nadal, D-University City, told colleagues last Wednesday, urging them to vote for the override. “It’s actually quite a progressive move on the part of those who support technology.”

Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, added: “In our own rules for Joint Committees, we’re actually allowed to phone in and be on speakerphone, and participate in those hearings on speakerphone — and, when there are votes called, we are allowed to vote via speakerphone.

“So, the idea that we can do that (but) we couldn’t use videoconferencing technology — where you actually have an image of the person in real time — just seems silly and antiquated to me.”

Among his objections, Nixon said in his July 2 veto letter: “While it may be understandable to provide this tool to accommodate the occasional scheduling conflict, no limit is placed on the number of meetings a member could attend by videoconference.”

But Chappelle Nadal, who also is a member of University City’s Board of Education, noted the Missouri School Boards Association’s policies include limits on missing meetings — and most Missouri school boards have adopted those policies.

MSBA Spokesman Brent Ghan said Friday: “Many school board members travel for their work or for other reasons and would like to have the option to participate in their local board meetings using videoconferencing technology. Now they will be able to do that ... and that’s a good thing.”

The new law changes a part of the state’s Open Meetings/Open Records law that lawmakers had changed only nine years ago.

Then-Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, argued in 2004 that several elected officials in his eastern Missouri district, especially on city councils, were voting by telephone all the time, and not attending meetings.

So, he sponsored the amendment to another Sunshine Law bill in 2004 that required elected officials to be “physically present and in attendance at the meeting” in order to vote — although they still could be part of the meeting from a distance, without being able to vote.

Griesheimer left the state Senate three years ago, because of term limits, and now is Franklin County’s presiding commissioner.

“I’ve had times when I’ve had other meetings and was not able to go to another meeting,” Griesheimer said in a telephone interview Friday. “But you’ve got to have a quorum — you can’t just have everybody vote by videoconference.”

The current law allowed board members to vote by “voice or electronic means” in an emergency situation, as long as “a quorum of the members of the public body (are) physically present and in attendance” — and that part of the law wasn’t changed.

But Nixon’s veto message also worried that nothing in the new law “would prohibit every member of an elected board from attending all meetings via videoconference.”

Griesheimer noted that “Skype wasn’t even an afterthought” when he won his amendment nine years ago, and he now doesn’t object to videoconferencing — as long as a majority of the officials are in the official meeting room.

Dick Burke, Missouri Association of Counties executive director, said last week the new law will “have a very limited effect on the vast majority of counties where videoconferencing isn’t a practical option. Some larger counties might utilize it at times, but I don’t believe it would be a common practice.”

Both houses got substantially more than the required two-thirds majority to override Nixon’s veto, with the Senate passing the new law, 31-3, while the House vote was 125-32.

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