By Jackie Archer, leader of the Tennessee Legislative Report Card project.
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You will notice some interesting contradictions between individual member’s vote scores and their leadership grades this year. There is a simple explanation. It is the difference between voting on very few divisive bills vs sponsoring good legislation.
Blind to who sponsored, we chose 37 bills to score; based only on the bill’s probable effect on our fellow Tennesseans in terms of liberty, fiscal responsibility, transparency, and fidelity to their oath (not to their cronies and special interests).
Of those 37 bills, 5 did not survive the first sub-committee, therefore very few members were given the opportunity to vote, yeah or nay.
Most Democrats vote in block. When their leadership decides what their position should be on a bill, with a few exceptions, they all vote accordingly. The Republican majority is 28 to 5 in the Senate, and 73 to 26 in the House, so the partisan opposition makes little difference. The differentiating votes are those that divide the majority.
Of the 32 remaining bills only 3 were controversial enough to receive mixed votes from the Republican majority. Those 3 were:
1] HB0001 – the sports gambling bill which we opposed
2] HB0850 – the alcohol sales and consumption on campus bill which we opposed
3] HB0077 – the “Heartbeat” bill which we supported.
HB0001 and HB0850 passed; **HB0077 failed.
With only three bills controversial enough to divide the Republican majority, that means, of the 32 that were scored in cases where all, or most all, of the members had an opportunity to vote, there were only 2 or 3 bad votes. That results in a pretty good vote score for most Republicans.
Leadership grades are based on other actions: sponsorships and co-sponsorships of worthy bills, and other observed good deeds that promote the values stated in paragraph two above. A few courageous members sponsor multiple ambitious bills. Less courageous members could co-sponsor those bills but fail to do so, even though they support them with their votes. Questions and arguments in the hearings can improve or diminish a bill’s chances. These actions are observed and noted. Members who do little but vote on the chosen bills do not earn points in the leadership column.
Members are given advanced notice of our methods and our reasoned positions on chosen bills, so they can easily earn points if they agree and act accordingly. We assume they are not accustomed to being so closely observed and judged. It is our hope that our vigilance will create incentive for them to be more accountable to their constituents in the future.
**It should be noted that HB0077 is slated to be studied at 1:00 P.M. on August 12, 2019 in House Hearing Room I at the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville with the premise of being rewritten and reintroduced in 2020. If you wish to be there to support the sponsors, it will be open to the public, as always.