We don’t know until after the last day of the legislative session which bills will be included in each report card. Often legislators or their staff ask us if a certain bill will be included. Our honest answer is we don’t know and so we don’t disclose what bills will be on the report card before the session is over.
We know early in the year that we have priority bills, but there’s no guarantee that a priority bill will make it to the scored list. Bills and bill lists change a lot during a legislative session, and especially during the last month. So we wait until the session is over to select the report card bills.
Our staff who work on legislation and I select the report card bills together. We look for bills that mean a lot to our organization and our members’ efforts to advance policies that protect the planet. We also look for bills whose votes distinguish between environmental champions and everyone else.
Our members live everywhere in the state, and different policies affect different geographies differently. So we try to vary the subjects that the bills we score cover. Some bills may be of greater interest to members who live in urban areas that are highly impacted by vehicle pollution or refinery pollution or oil drilling activity. Other bills may be of more interest to our rural members who live near forests that are threatened by clear cutting or wildfire–or both.
We also only select bills that we know we included on our floor alerts and on which we lobbied. That way we can head off arguments that we didn’t provide fair warning about our position on a bill before it ends up on the report card.
We typically try to keep the list of bills to about 12 in each house. Once we identify those bills, we use the legislature’s own vote recording system to compile the scores. Then we share individual legislators’ scores with his or her legislative office to make sure we haven’t made an error on the statistics.
Our second, newer accountability tool, the Tracking the Dirty Dollars report, has only come out twice so far. The first issue was released in November and the second was released in February. We plan to release updated reports every quarter through 2021.
That report details donations by the oil and gas industry and allied groups to legislators and the governor. The information is gathered from the campaign finance databases and other reporting portals on the secretary of state’s website. It is also informed by our staff’s work as they lobby in the capitol.
We have found that when it comes to our publication of these accountability tools, the legislators who are most annoyed are those who received both low scores on the report card and show high levels of funding receipts in the Tracking the Dirty Dollars report. There are exceptions. Some Republicans have actually expressed pride in receiving a low score on our report card.
In any case, our aim with these reports is not to make legislators happy or sad. It is to inform the public, including our members, about how their legislators are doing on environmental issues.
For those legislators who want better scores and less embarrassing revelations about who funds their campaigns, the formula for success is simple: Vote with courage for the environment and just say no to oil and gas money.