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In Depth: State senate committee meetings sparsely attended

February 03, 2017 05:24 AM

ALBANY - There's an old saying that 80 percent of life is just showing up. However, that's not the case at the state Capitol.

The NewsChannel 13 Waste Watchers team took a look at poor attendance in Senate committees. Some lawmakers don't show up to a single meeting all year long.

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We learned in grade school the whole point of a committee is to weed out bad bills and only send through good ones to the next level.

A committee is meant to be a smaller group of lawmakers, but NewsChannel 13 found out it's probably smaller than you think.

The big floor at the Capitol is what you usually see when we talk about new bills going through the Senate. However, a little conference room is how bills make it there. When NewsChannel 13 attended a committee meeting, it was the chair, who is Republican Senator George Amedore of Rotterdam, staffers, and six absent lawmakers. There was no debate, no questions, no comments in the three-minute meeting. Members of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Committee send in their votes on a sheet of paper beforehand.

Democratic Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn is the ranking member on this committee. The ranker is the leader of the minority party and Parker, the leader, didn't show up to any of the committee's four meetings last year.

"I mean most people vote via sheet. If you look at the attendance, the attendance is probably very low," he acknowledged.

Parker says there's no point in being there in person, because the majority will just push through their own bills. He says he's never even met with Senator Amedore to talk about committee work.

"You know, you give everyone ample notice. Everyone has the calendar," countered Amedore. "I'm sorry he feels that way. He should show up. He's got an obligation to his constituents to show up and if you want to be a member of a committee then get involved."

At the Committee on Children and Families, the ranking member, Democratic Senator Velmanette Montgomery of Brooklyn, didn't show up to a single meeting last year either. After asking her off camera for a comment, she still did not want to talk us about it on camera.

"If that's all you want to talk to me about, I'm not interested in talking to you," she responded.

Democratic Senator David Carlucci of Rockland County chairs the Social Services Committee. Four members didn't go to any of his meetings. However, unlike Amedore, he says it works the way it is.

"To say that every member has to come to every meeting, I don't think is necessary in terms of a committee, but when there is something that they want to bring to the table or discuss and make sure it's publicly disputed. Then it's important they show up," he noted.

Carlucci says some committees have bills that aren't controversial. He says most of the debating goes on behind closed doors with the bill's sponsor.

In all fairness, senators say sometimes it's physically impossible to get to all of your committee meetings, because when session runs late, sometimes meetings are scheduled at the same time.

"I'm on nine different committees and I try to attend every single one, but there's a lot of times conflicting schedules," admitted Amedore.

So is there a better way to hold some of these committees meetings? Different scheduling, different rules? If nothing changes, what's the point?

"I've been here for 15 years, all right? So I know how things work," assured Parker. "This is not a matter of being there. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

Lawmakers can make an extra $9,000 for being a ranking member. That's Senator Parker and Senator Montgomery.  However, they both drew their pay from committees they actually attended.

WEB EXTRA: Executive Director of Empire Center for Public Policy discusses committee attendance

Credits

Asa Stackel

Copyright 2017 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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