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Minnesota Legislature

Teleconferencing to save money

Published (3/6/2009)
By Nick Busse
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A bill that would allow state agencies to save on travel expenses by teleconferencing is headed to the House floor.

HF456, sponsored by Rep. Sheldon Johnson (DFL-St. Paul), would allow agencies to hold meetings via telephone or other electronic means as long as the following conditions are met:

• all meeting participants can clearly hear one another and all discussion and testimony;

• members of the public present at the normal physical meeting location can hear all discussion and votes and participate in the meeting;

• at least one member of the agency or entity is present at the normal meeting location; and

• all votes are conducted by roll call.

The House State and Local Government Operations Reform, Technology and Elections Committee approved the bill March 3 and sent it to the House floor.

In its original form, the bill would have applied only to the Indian Affairs Council; however, the idea was expanded in a delete-all amendment successfully offered by Chairman Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr. (DFL-Winona) to include all state agencies.

The bill would not change public notice requirements for state agencies conducting meetings electronically. Many agencies already have the authority to conduct meetings via teleconference in certain circumstances, such as in emergencies.

At a Feb. 26 hearing in which the bill was temporarily laid over, some committee members were supportive of the idea as a cost-saving measure, while others said it opened the door to abuses.

Noting that people who participate in electronic meetings could still collect per diem payments, Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) wondered if money saved on travel expenses and lodging would be partially offset by people collecting per diem for participating in meetings “at home in their pajamas.”

Sen. Mee Moua (DFL-St. Paul) sponsors the companion, SF764, which was reccommended to pass March 4 by the Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee.

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