A law currently in the final stages of debate in Nashville may soon give local school board members the option of appearing at meetings via videoconference.
The measure, known as SB 2723 in the State Senate and HB 2883 in the State House, would allow school boards across the state to craft policies allowing board members to attend meetings electronically, instead of having to be physically present. The State Senate passed its first version of the amendment on March 15 by a vote of 25-6, but goes back to that body after the State House added an amendment requiring verification of a videoconference attendee’s identity before allowing said attendee to participate.
PDF: Tennessee Senate Bill 2723
PDF: Tennessee House Bill 2883
RELATED: See how State Senators voted
RELATED: See how State Representatives voted
The proposal allows school board members to craft and enact their own policies concerning board members attending meetings via videoconference, provided those policies used the following guidelines:
- Board members may not attend more than two meetings via videoconference.
- A board member must be out of the county on a work-related matter, military service, or “family emergency” – the latter of which will be left to individual boards to decide – in order to be eligible to videoconference.
- Any board member appearing by videoconference must have their identity confirmed by said board’s chairperson.
The measure has prompted some hesitation from local delegates, with Republican Rep. Frank Niceley voicing concerns about how a videoconferencing system could be used by imposters and four of Knox County’s 10 state legislators voting against the bill, but local school board members that responded to requests for comment voiced support for the concept.
First District board member Gloria Deathridge saw the concept as the “natural evolution” of government’s use of technology.
“Video conferencing is a part of our future, so I see it as just another technology tool we can use to do our jobs,” Deathridge said.
Third District representative Cindy Buttry envisioned the idea as more of a “backup” measure that she didn’t believe would see much use, but might be nice to have as an option.
“We all try to be in attendance,” Buttry said, noting she could recall only “one or two” instances of a board member not being present at a scheduled meeting. “It would have been nice if they [absent board members] could have videoconferenced in and expressed their concerns,” she said of those instances.
Vice Chairwoman Indya Kincannon agreed, noting the legislation was necessary for the school board to even discuss such measures.
“I think our board would be open to letting a member participate via Skype or whatever the format ultimately is,” Kincannon said. “I know that occasions have come up a couple of times where we were interested in discussing that, and it was not allowed.”
While opponents in Nashville have raised questions about potential abuses of a videoconferencing policy, none of the responding school members thought that would be a concern in Knox County.
“I don’t think it will be a problem in Knoxville,” Deathridge said, noting the law has “several restrictions” on any such policy. “A board member can only miss two board meetings anyway, so I don’t think we’ll have a problem with it being a regular occurrence.”
The bill currently awaits passage in the State Senate, then will go to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk for review.