A state senator in Ohio might have fooled anyone who watched a state board meeting this week into thinking he was attending from home if not for one thing: the seat belt strapped across his chest.
Also, at one point he turned his head to look over both shoulders in what appeared to be an attempt to safely change lanes inside his home office.
In footage of the meeting, which was streamed live Monday, the senator, Andrew Brenner, first appeared in a parked car. A few minutes into the call, Brenner moved his phone, left the meeting for a moment, then reappeared and changed his background to make it look as though he were sitting in a home office, surrounded by brown cabinets, a houseplant and hanging artwork.
But across his chest, a dark-gray seat belt stood out against his dress shirt.
As he drove, Brenner, a Republican who represents an area north of Columbus, appeared to keep his eyes mostly ahead as he listened and responded to questions from members of the state Controlling Board, a body of elected officials who make adjustments to the state budget.
Though the office background largely obscured Brenner’s car, glimpses of the view from the driver’s-side window could be seen when he moved his head.
Brenner did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He told The Columbus Dispatch that he “wasn’t distracted” during the meeting and was “paying attention to the driving and listening to” the discussion.
“I had two meetings that were back-to-back that were in separate locations,” Brenner told The Dispatch. “And I’ve actually been on other calls, numerous calls, while driving. Phone calls for the most part, but on video calls, I’m not paying attention to the video. To me, it’s like a phone call.”
Brenner’s multitasking coincided with the introduction of a distracted-driving bill in the state’s House of Representatives. The bill would expand a ban on texting while driving, currently a secondary offense in Ohio, to explicitly ban texting, livestreaming, photo taking and the use of mobile apps while driving.
The bill would make both the holding and use of an electronic device while driving a primary offense.
Earlier this year, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio included provisions in his budget proposal to crack down on distracted driving.
“Ohio’s current laws don’t go far enough to change the culture around distracted driving, and people are dying because of it,” DeWine said in a statement. “Distracted driving is a choice that must be as culturally unacceptable as drunk driving is today, and strengthening our current laws will lead to more responsible driving.”
Brenner isn’t the first to have pushed the edge of what is acceptable on video conferences during the coronavirus pandemic. As meetings and court proceedings have moved online since last spring, missteps have abounded. Judges have complained about lawyers attending proceedings shirtless and defendants logging on for hearings in bikinis, and even naked.
Last month, Rebecca Saldaña, a Democratic state senator in Washington, apologized after she participated in a legislative video hearing while driving, The Seattle Times reported.
In February, a California plastic surgeon attended a Zoom traffic court hearing from an operating room, and a lawyer in Texas who was struggling with a filter had to explain to a judge that he was “not a cat.”