Local officials in Missouri will be allowed to vote remotely

Saturday, September 21, 2013 | 5:52 p.m. CDT; updated 6:28 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 21, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY — Skipping a city council or school board meeting in Missouri will no longer mean local officials also miss a vote, thanks to a new law taking effect next month.

Missouri lawmakers last week overrode Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a measure allowing votes to be cast through video conferencing. Previously, local officials had to be "physically present and in attendance" to cast votes unless there was an emergency and a quorum was physically present. Now, officials will be able to vote in person or by video conference.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who also serves on the school board in her hometown of University City in St. Louis County. The Democratic lawmaker said that last year she was in Taiwan for a trade mission and could not vote on a $19 million bond issue.

"We're trying to become more efficient in the way that we operate," Chappelle-Nadal said. She noted that volunteers who serve on local boards occasionally must miss a meeting because of their jobs.

The Jefferson City News Tribune reported that a 2004 Missouri law required that officials physically attend the meeting to vote.

Then-Sen. John Griesheimer said several local officials in his area were skipping meetings and simply voting by telephone. Now the presiding commissioner of Franklin County, Griesheimer said he does not object to video conferencing if the majority of the board is physically present.

Lawmakers voted to override Nixon's veto 31-3 in the Senate and 125-32 in the House. Nixon said in his veto message that the legislation does not limit how frequently officials could vote remotely and that nothing would prevent an entire board from participating by video conference. He said that video conferencing can create a "virtual distance" and that physically attending meetings is important.

"This provides assurances that our elected officials are, at a minimum, approachable and available to their constituents at public meetings," Nixon said. "It also ensures their active engagement in the topics at hand and provides an environment for open interaction and dialogue with colleagues, staff and the public in order to develop compromise and navigate difficult decisions."

Chappelle-Nadal said most school boards already have policies that establish limits on how many meetings can be missed and that 35 states allow for teleconferencing in at least some cases for school board meetings.

Missouri School Boards' Association spokesman Brent Ghan said the new law is a good thing.

"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 video conferencing technology," he said.

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