The Texas legislative session that concluded in May might seem like a distant memory already. Over the summer, there were special sessions as well as the impeachment trial of State Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Legislators who are beholden to polluting special interests are counting on you to forget what happened during the regular session. Sierra Club and its allies challenged some of the worst legislation championed by big polluters while making tremendous progress on issues like pollution reduction, making electricity bills more affordable for everyday Texans, and addressing worsening water quality on our coastline, rivers, and streams.
If we strive for a clean and equitable future in Texas, we must not lose sight of how we got to this place where corporate interests carry more influence than Texans. That’s why the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter is proud to announce its 2023 Texas Legislative Scorecard.
Since relaunching our scorecard in 2017, our objective has been to give Texans a clear picture of the environmental justice and conservation values of elected officials working in the Texas Legislature. Showing that picture accurately is very hard to do. There are thousands of bills filed every session, including several hundred bills related to energy, water, and the environment. Some are good, some are bad. Some have immense consequences, some relatively minor. In selecting 15 votes per chamber to represent an environmental scorecard, we have to justify why they matter more than the hundreds of other votes we could include in our assessment.
We made the choice to focus on bills and actions that correspond most closely with our legislative priorities that were laid out at the beginning of the year. Those priorities can be found here. We also chose to focus only on bills and actions that we worked on. Therefore, if you’re wondering why a certain bill wasn’t included, it’s because we had to make a choice, given limited resources. Another important factor when choosing what to track was to try to select a representative sample of our legislative priorities. We could have easily selected bills and action that just related to energy, but we also worked on water, parks and wildlife, air quality, etc. So what you hopefully see is a cross section of Sierra Club issues that give you a good assessment of your State Representative and State Senator’s values and priorities when it comes to environmental protection and justice.
We don’t rely just on floor votes though. We also painstakingly comb through actions off the floor, in committees and behind the scenes, to help illuminate more of what’s really going on. Why do that? Because the hard work of environmental champions doesn’t always show up on the House or Senate floor, and the influence of polluter special interests is often best seen in the decisions of committee chairs, for example. Our scorecard, therefore, is centered on one simple guiding question: Did your state legislator have the courage to stand up to special interests and vote in your best interests? We think that our scorecard helps answer this question.
While our methodology remains largely the same, there are a few changes to the way we did the scorecard this year. First, we are treating absences a little differently. Before we used to count an absence as if it were a vote against the Sierra Club’s position. After all, they weren’t there to vote the right way. However, this can often overlook some important circumstances. For example, two lawmakers had to miss several votes because they were dealing with family emergencies. Instead of knocking them for it, we took those votes out of their total and adjusted their score accordingly. Second, if a legislator was marked “absent, excused” in the record, we looked to see if they voted for the same bill on second reading. If they did, we used that vote to score them. If they were not excused, we still counted that as a vote against the Sierra Club position.
Like last year, we made adjustments to some legislators’ scores based on additional actions (both positive and negative), but we focused much more on those who were in relative positions of power. For example, members who sat on committees that our top bills went through were in a much more influential position to do something than those who weren’t in these committees. We strove to show how committee chairs especially hold much more power over energy and environmental bills than anyone else besides the Speaker, Lt. Governor, and Governor.
You will also notice we included short individualized assessments for many of the legislators with more influence on energy and environmental bills, rather than creating a separate list of adjustments. We hope this makes the information quicker to access, as well as leaves a trail of crumbs for anyone who wants to dig deeper into a legislator’s voting record.
Finally, as we say with every scorecard, this is an imperfect tool. There are certainly some actions that were overlooked. If there is a mistake in vote tallies, we are open to making corrections. Accuracy matters, so please reach out to us if you think something looks wrong.
We are honored that you are using this scorecard, and are curious about legislative accountability. Without people like you, legislators would only have corporate special interests to please.
-The Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Legislative Team
Next Section: Format, Methodology, and Acknowledgements