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Ohio state senator caught driving during Zoom call as House considered distracted-driving bill

Footage showed Sen. Andrew Brenner wearing a seat belt against the backdrop of what appeared to be an office.
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An Ohio senator was captured driving during a government Zoom meeting on Monday — the same day the state was considering a bill proposing a crackdown on distracted drivers.

In video of the state Controlling Board meeting, which was livestreamed to the public, state Sen. Andrew Brenner can be seen sitting in the driver’s seat of his parked car. He then appears to lean forward and turn off his camera.

When Brenner returns, video shows the senator with a new background to make it appear as if he were in an office rather than behind the wheel of his car. The filter features brown wooden cabinets, hanging art pieces and a houseplant. However, a seat belt is strapped across his chest.

Throughout the call, Brenner occasionally turns his head to the side, revealing glimpses of the view from the driver’s side window.

“Senator Brenner was simply following the law, using hands free audio technology," his spokesman John Fortney said.

Brenner, a Republican who represents an area north of Columbus, told The Columbus Dispatch that he "wasn't distracted" during the Zoom call, admitting he has previously taken phone calls while driving.

"I was paying attention to the driving and listening to it," Brenner said. "I had two meetings that were back to back that were in separate locations. 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."

The incident occurred as the state's House of Representatives considered a bill that penalized phone use while driving. House Bill 283 would outlaw drivers from doing a number of things behind the wheel, including texting, taking photos and using mobile apps. It would also make both holding and using an electronic device while driving, like looking up directions, a primary offense.

In February, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said in a statement that he would include driving safety provisions in his upcoming budget proposal.

"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. “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.”

The incident involving Brenner is the latest mundane proceeding to take an interesting turn in the age of coronavirus, videoconferencing and remote work.

Last month, a Canadian lawmaker was caught naked during a virtual meeting of the House of Commons. William Amos, who has represented the Quebec district of Pontiac since 2015, explained that his video was accidentally on while he was changing into work clothes after a run.

"I sincerely apologize to my colleagues in the House of Commons for this unintentional distraction. Obviously, it was an honest mistake and it won’t happen again,” he said in a statement at the time.

In February, a Sacramento plastic surgeon showed up to his Zoom traffic court trial while in the middle of operating on a patient. Dr. Scott Green appeared in the virtual courtroom from an operating room dressed in scrubs and a surgical mask.

Despite some hesitation from a courtroom clerk, Green insisted that they move forward with the trial.

“Mr. Green. Hi. Are you available for trial? It kind of looks like you’re in an operating room right now," the clerk said in a video captured by The Sacramento Bee.

"I am, sir. I'm in an operating room. Yes, I'm available for trial. Go right ahead," Green replied.

And that same month, a virtual courtroom hearing came to an abrupt pause in southwest Texas when an attorney inadvertently appeared on screen as a computer-filter-generated cat.

Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton struggled to turn off the applied filter after appearing in Zoom court as a fluffy white and brown kitten. Ponton later explained that he was forced to use the computer of his secretary, whose child last used the desktop, because his office was in the midst of a move.

At the hearing, Ponton could be heard saying: "I'm prepared to go forward with it. I'm here live, I'm not a cat."