Wyoming Liberty Index, 2016 Methodology

As usual, our methodology is to rate the bills, regardless of how the individual legislators voted on them. Most bills are rated from -2 (most hostile to liberty) to +2 (most favorable). Occasionally we hand out -3 and +3, for particularly egregious and excellent bills, respectively, to the weighted ratings. Associated with the rating is a comment indicating why the rater rated the bill. The spreadsheet applies the bill rating to each vote to obtain a rating for each legislator. These are then summed.

The Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet is generated with a suite of custom Perl and shell scripts, with minor revisions this year. The main script assigns sponsorships (1) and votes for (1) or against (-1) a bill on third reading to each legislator. In 2015, raw data come from the vote records for each bill. In the past, we have used the digests. This year, due to software issues, we reverted to using the digests. Also this year, other raw data come from the 2016 summary.

Similarly, the spreadsheet sums sponsorships and accumulates them into the ratings.

We indicate whether a bill is signed into law or not, but do not rate the governor.

We provide an outcome code for each bill:

These are summed up on each worksheet, then the worksheet sums are accumulated in the Results worksheet.

We provide the LSO's summary (which are sometimes opaque and more technical than the casual citizen would like) in comments. Be aware that after bills are amended, the LSO summary may be out of date.

We make an effort to indicate fiscal impact of a bill by scraping the LSO's Fiscal Impact statements. These, too, are not updated as the bill is amended. We apply one of several indicators:

The comments in the fiscal impact row may contain more information. Occasionally, a bill's fiscal impact statement is missing from the web site when we scrape it. In that case, the comment will say, "No fiscal data available."

We provide Excused, Absent and Conflict totals for each member on the Results tab of the spreadsheet. These are totals of third reading votes for which the member was excused, absent or had a conflict, not days.

Budget Bills

The legislature handles the budget in a special way. Each house starts with a budget bill, usually SF1 and HB1. These are identical "mirror" bills. They are amended and voted in parallel in each house. They are then reconciled in a conference committee, and the results submitted back to the two houses for concurrence. Thus only the House has a third reading vote on HB1, and only the Senate on SF1. Joint Rule 14 (PDF) The spreadsheet reflects that special handling.

This year, several spending areas were hived off from the budget bills into their own bills. They are:

Bill PairTitleSubject
HB0001/SF0001General AppropriationsGeneral and Rainy Day Funds
HB0123/SF0041State Capital Constructionna
HB0051/SF0071Local Government FundingRainy Day Funds
HB0096/SF0040AML FundingAbandoned Mine Land (AML) Funds
HB0052/SF0083School Capital ConstructionSchool CapCon Account and Rainy Day Funds

These bills other than SF 1 and HB 1 were subject to the usual rules for non-budget bills: no mirror bills, and a two thirds vote to introduce.

Dr. No

We have long speculated that a legislator who did not sponsor any bills and who consistently voted no on every bill would do fairly well. To test that hypothesis, in 2012 we added such a legislator, whom we call "Dr. No", to both houses. (The fact that Ron Paul is also known as Dr. No for his voting record has absolutely nothing to do with our choice of names here.) So our House has 61 representatives, our Senate has 31 Senators. Of course, you can modify the spreadsheet to exclude "Dr. No". This year's results run against the original speculation in the Senate, but support it in the House. This experiment will continue.

Excused, Absent and Conflict totals

Since 2013 we have provided Excused, Absent and Conflict totals for each member on the Results tab of the spreadsheet. These are totals of third reading votes for which the member was excused, absent or had a conflict, not days.

Leadership

The leadership is very important to the performance of a legislature, as the 62nd legislature illustrates. And it is not easy to find this information on the LSO's web site. In 2014 we provided the leadership in each house in the writeup on that session.

New in 2016

The Categories

This year there are 14 categories for bills, all carried over from last year. They are in flux and may change in future. These are rough categories, and different reviewers may assign a bill to different categories. You can find the categories for each bill in the comments for each rating, and in the bill's summary PDF. Also, each category has a row in the spreadsheet below the legislator rows; there is a 1 for each bill in a category. These are summed on the Results worksheet.

The categories are:

Clarity
In the Roman Republic, one could go down to the local forum and read the law, set out on twelve tablets. Concision and clarity were a hallmark of the laws of the day. In a modern republic, it ought to be possible for a citizen of typical education to be able to read and understand a bill.
Education
Does this bill pertain to education? Education is not necessarily the same as the government school system. As Mark Twain said, never let your schooling get in the way of your education.
Federalism
Does this bill pertain to the concept of federalism, or, more broadly, to subsidiarity? This is what Europeans call the concept that government ought to take place as locally as possible. Thus, does this bill prefer a local solution to a national solution, or visa verse. Of course, the ultimate in local responsibility is individual responsibility.
Free Market
Does this bill encourage or encroach upon the free market?
General Government
The general day-to-day management of government, such as authorizing the purchase of paper clips.
Health Care Freedom
Does this bill inhibit or promote marketplace healthcare solutions that let people choose and control their own health care outcomes. The field includes both health care itself (say, regulation of denturists) and paying for it, including insurance.
Individual Rights
"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,… that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,…."
Limited Government
This category relates to the idea that governments may do things only in certain ways, that government is limited in its powers. The category subsumes the concept of enumerated powers, which holds that government may do only those things expressly allowed it in its constitution.
Micromanagement
This is one of those terms where "I can't define it but I know it when I see it." It is simply excessive control by the legislature of things that could be left to the person carrying out the statute. Reasonable folks may differ here.
Separation of Powers
Government has three main powers, which we separate into branches: the legislative, which creates laws; the executive, which carries them out; and the judicial, which decides questions of law. There is a delicate balance between separation of the three branches so that each may carry out its function, and that of checks and balances, which sees to it that each branch may oversee the others so as to jealously guard the liberties of the people from it.
Spirit and Letter of Founding Documents
This category speaks to the spirit of resistance to tyranny which permeates not only the Constitution and Declaration, but other documents of the day, and their Whig predecessors such as Algernon Sidney and William Lord Russell.
Taxation
Does this bill pertain to taxation?
Transparency
Does this bill speak to open government, open processes? This is related to the checks and balances because the people and other branches cannot check something if they don't know it is occurring. Open meeting laws and publication on the Internet are usually transparency laws.
Usurpation & Delegation of Power
In the US, the theory is that the people have all rights, and government at best has only powers, and then only those powers expressly granted to it by the people. How does this bill fit that model?

The categories also show up on the legislator pages. We show each legislator's score in each category, as though you had created a spreadsheet with only the bills in that category. Note that the average is an average of the per category scores. It is not the same as the overall score in the spreadsheet, and one should be surprised if those two values happen to be equal.

Caveat Lector

The Liberty Index is not intended to be an exact rating. For one thing, it only looks at third reading votes, not at votes on amendments, votes to concur, or votes or in committee. In a budget session, a two thirds vote in the house of introduction is required to introduce a bill other than the budget. Clearly these votes affect the fate of a bill. In spite of the precision with which these numbers are displayed, they are at best rough guides. Also, categories may not map well from year to year as categories may come and go. House and Senate ratings are not comparable, as the two houses vote on different bills.

2011 provides an interesting example of the variability of rating bills. HB 41 (PDF) received from three different raters a 2, a 1 and a -1, for a net rating of 2. Similarly 2014's HJ 4 (PDF), with ratings of -1 and 3. Take ratings of any one bill with your salt shaker handy.

Final Reflection

Once again, it is interesting to see the results, as members of the legislature seem to track consistently from previous years, despite the changeover in bill raters. The conclusion seems to be that, whatever the differences in political philosophy, people apparently have a fairly consistent understanding of what liberty is.

Our "Dr. No" hypothetical legislator is interesting. In years past, some of the real legislators did better than Dr. No, but most did worse. For two years, we found that most of the House did better than Dr. No, as did most of the Senate. This year, we find that Dr. No did well in the Senate, but badly in the house. While five years of data are hardly definitive, perhaps we can add to our advice to legislators, "When in doubt, vote to kill." Or, as Calvin Coolidge put it, "It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones."

Finally, Republican leadership in both houses disappoint. They tend to average at or below the halfway mark in their respective houses. This year, Speaker Brown particulary disappoints, and the Senate Republican leadership scored worse than the Democrat leadership's collective rating of five. So the Democrat leadership continues to disappoint, while the Senate Democrat leadership gave us a pleasant surprise. Let us see if they can keep it up next year.

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