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NYS Exposed: Bad Attendance

May 23, 2017 12:01 AM

Monday, we're looking into why our New York State Senators miss so many of their committee meetings that we pay them to go to. Their attendance is so bad all of them would be called to the principal's office.

Last year the average committee attendance for the State Senate was 35 percent.

In our New York State Exposed report, I track down the most truant State Senator in our area.

His name is Senator Robert Ortt. If you live in Spencerport, Brockport or Orleans County, he is your state Senator and from January to early April, he was a committee no-show 88 percent of the time.

We knew he would be at the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities committee meeting on Tuesday, May 16. That is the committee he chairs, he never misses it and he gets an extra $12,500 dollars to be there. But after the meeting I wanted to talk about all the committee meetings he did miss.

Brean: I'm Berkeley Brean from News10NBC in Rochester.

Sen. Robert Ortt, (R) Niagara, Orleans County: Yeah.

From January until the budget vote in April, the 10 committees Senator Ortt sits on met 25 times. He went to three of them.

Sen. Robert Ortt, (R) Niagara, Orleans County: Yep. 

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Brean: How do you explain that? 

Ortt: Well there's no explanation necessary. I'm voting on the bills. I'm doing the absolute job for my constituents in my district.

Here's how the system works.

State Senators are allowed to fill out a voting sheet for every bill in the committee they sit on and submit their votes to the committee before the meeting. Their vote is registered but they don't have to show up. And it happens a lot.

We watched the meeting of every State Senate committee leading up to the budget vote. When we watched Senator Ortt's committees we noticed he attended only 12 percent of the time.

Brean: If the constituent were to look at the video...

Sen. Robert Ortt, (R) Niagara, Orleans County: They would see I voted, who cares about the video? 

Brean: But they wouldn't see you there. 

Ortt: Invariably. They would see that I voted on all the bills.

Senator Ortt has the worst committee attendance of local State Senators by far. But the others aren't great either.

Senator Pat Gallivan -- 33 percent. 

Senator Rich Funke -- 44 percent. 

Senator Joe Robach -- 50 percent.

When we were in Albany last Tuesday, we went to the Consumer Protection committee meeting and for the first time this year, Senators Funke and Robach showed up.

Brean: So why do you miss that many committee meetings? 

Sen. Rich Funke, (R) 55th Senate District: Well you have a perfect record in an imperfect system, right? When it comes to committee meetings, a lot of them are at the same time and you can't be in two places at once.

Here's an example: on March 7th, Senator Funke had five committee meetings. He made it to two of them.

Brean: Why do you miss half of your committee meetings? 

Sen. Joe Robach, (R) 56th Senate District: Well, I think, when you say miss...

Brean: You're not there. 

Robach: Right. You can either go physically or we have a mechanism where you can fill out a voting sheet. I will say this because I think it's important. Whether I'm there physically or not I go over every bill because that is the mechanism and I don't want something to come to the floor that I don't think would be good for my constituents. 

The two remaining local State Senators have among the highest committee attendance. 

Senator Michael Ranzenhofer -- 69 percent. 

Senator Pam Helming -- 58 percent. 


In a statement, Senator Helming said, "My voting record is 100 percent. I have never missed a committee vote. I sit on eight committees, three budget subcommittees and two task forces. There have been four instances where committee meetings have overlapped. On one occasion, I was meeting with an American Legion representative who traveled from the district to talk to me about Veteran's issues."

And that's the way the system works in the State Senate. Get your vote in and you don't have to go.

Brean: What's the purpose of the meeting then, if you don't have to be here.  

Sen. Robert Ortt, (R) Niagara, Orleans County: You got to have the meeting to move (the bill.) You're creating an optical issue. The vote happens, whether I'm physically there or I go over it with my staff and I vote on it with my voting sheet, the vote occurs. 

This is not an issue in the state Assembly because they have to go to their committee meetings. But it's a lot easier in the state Assembly than the State Senate, just based on the number of members and the number of committees.

Here's a list of local State Assembly members and the number of committees they sit on versus the number State Senators and the number of committees they sit on. 

Assembly Senate
Harry Bronson: 6 Robach : 12
Joe Errigo: 5 Funke: 10
David Gantt: 6 Gallivan: 17
Steve Hawley: 6 Ranzenhofer: 10
Mark Johns: 5 Ortt: 10
Peter Lawrence: 4 Helming: 9
Bob Oaks: 3  

State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle and Minority Leader Brian Kolb hold leadership roles in the Assembly. Both sit on just one committee, the Rules Committee. 

Attendance records

Credits

Berkeley Brean

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