RI Senate Environmental Voting RankingsSee which Senators have voted to protect your health, promote conservation, and fight climate change here in Rhode Island
How We Measured Environmental Voting Records
After witnessing horrendous voting records across the board on civil liberties, it was refreshing to see that our state Senators do much better on environmental bills. However, these good ratings do come with a caveat: leadership blocked 18 of the 27 environmental bills that the Environmental Council of RI supported during the 2018 and 2019 legislative years. This had a negative effect on both a) members of the applicable committees, b) members who took office in 2019. Those in committees lost big by voting down good environmental bills via the "Hold for further study" gimmick, while new members were denied the ability to vote at all on the majority of bills. The unfortunately result is that a couple of Senators had too few votes to achieve a rated score.
The average Senator voted on 10 environmental bills, including committee votes. Votes among Senators were largely similar for bills that received a floor vote, with one exception - S2652. This bill expands the qualifications for the net metering program, intended for renewable (i.e. zero-emission) energy, to include biomass - specifically the burning of wood. ECRI opposed this bill, and we agreed that it astroturfed the intent of the net metering program. Generally, bad bills like this are the result of lobbying by the industry that tends to benefit - in this case deforestation-related industries.
There were plenty of bright spots to highlight: The other two bills that ECRI opposed, S408 and S2499, were both shot down by their respective committees. Plus, with the exception of S2652, every bill supported by ECRI that received a floor vote had overwhelming support and passed the Senate.
About Committee Votes
Our rankings are the first "scorecard" to include committee votes. Committee votes play a huge part in Democracy, because a bill voted down in committee usually never sees the light of day for a floor vote. Many good bills die in committee, both on the local and national level and much more attention should be paid to this step in the lawmaking process. In committee, a small group of legislators votes on behalf of the entire Senate and determines whether a bill is worthy of a full floor vote. With respect to these rankings, committee votes were especially damaging to environmental concerns, as we often found good bills were killed in committee via the "Held for Further Study" gimmick. The gimmick works like this: Rather than going on the record as opposing a good bill or supporting an unpopular bill, voting to hold a bill for further study allows the committee to kill a bill by simply ignoring it. While some bills held are actually "studied" and re-introduced for a second vote later on in the session, the vast majority of bills come to an end using this maneuver. Generally, Senate committee votes suffer from "group think" or direction from leadership because lawmakers are not familiar enough with the bill. As a result, members vote as leadership instructs them or side with the majority. Our rankings treat a vote for further study as a "no" vote if the bill never comes up again during that year's session. As a result, voters have a much clearer picture of how damaging committees can be to progress.
We evaluated 27 bills with assigned Senate bill numbers in which the Environmental Council of Rhode Island publicly supported or opposed during the 2018-2019 legislative years. Senators were awarded a point for floor votes that support the ECRI position, and zero points if they opposed the ECRI position, abstained, or were absent from the vote. Those serving on committees that voted on an applicable bill were awarded a point for a committee vote that aligned with the ECRI position, and zero points for a vote opposing the ACLU position. An absence or abstaining from a committee vote was not counted at all, as legislators were more likely to miss committee votes than floor votes due to other obligations. As such, we chose not to penalize this for the 2020 rankings, since a penalty exists already on the floor vote. This may change in the future if we find legislators deliberately skipping committee votes to avoid accountability. However, for the bills we evaluated, this was not the case.
Bills were categorized by RI Rank in three categories: climate bills, health bills, and those focusing on conservation. Senators must have voted on at least 2 applicable bills to receive a score for that category, and votes on at least 4 bills were required to receive an overall score. While votes for every bill were counted in the overall score, legislators who were only able to vote on 2 or fewer bills in a category (due to being elected more recently) have their score showing as "N/A" because a single bill is not enough data to form a proper evaluation.
Best Environmental Voting Record
Ana QuezadaDistrict 2 (Elected 2016)
Perfect score, including committee votes
Only 1 vote in Climate category, 0 votes in Health
Senator Quezada was only able to participate in a total of 7 votes, but supported the ECRI position in every one of them. Her biggest vote came by opposing S2652 (net metering expansion to wood). Only 6 of 38 Senators opposed, but she was one of them. However, due to committee blockages, she was denied the ability to vote on any Health-related ECRI bills and her record was largely based on the 6 conservation-based bills she was able to vote on. Nonetheless, we expect her performance to have been similar had she been given the opportunity vote for more of these bills on the floor.
Elizabeth CrowleyDistrict 16 (Elected 2008)
Perfect score comprised of 6 floor votes.
Only 1 vote in Climate category, 0 votes in Health
Senator Crowley's ECRI voting record matched that of Ms. Quezada, the only difference being Senator Quezada's one additional vote (a committee vote against S2499). Senator Crowley also was one of the few to vote against S2652, and like others that opposed it, it helped her ranking substantially. Like Senator Quezada, we expect that Ms. Crowley would have performed similarly had she been allowed more bills to vote on, based on her past ratings with ECRI.
Swipe left to see ratings
Environmental Voting Score
Excellent OK Poor N/A Insufficient # of Votes
|de la Cruz||23||60||N/A||0||75|
How We Rank
Score is the cumulative total of the Senator's floor and committee votes that support the ECRI position divided by the total number of votes the Senator could have participated in (committee votes were only counted if the Senator was present for the vote). We then multiplied the score by 100 to create a scale from 1-100.
Scores for each individual category were tabulated as above, but just for that category of bills. A minimum of 2 votes were required for a Senator to be scored in any one category, else they were given a score of N/A (though their votes in the category still count as part of their overall score). A minimum of 4 votes were required for a Senator to be given a total score, else they were given a score of N/A (though their votes in this Environmental segment still count as part of their overall score).
Senators with scores above 75 are considered "Excellent" environmental advocates, scores between 50 - 74 are "OK", and scores below 50 are considered "Poor". For both individual categories and overall score, the maximum possible score is 100. The lowest possible score is 0.
(All Senate bills. A = Sub A)
Climate (2018): 2747, 2188, and 2652. (2019): 662, 658, 412, and 659.
Health (2018): 2654 (2019): 408, 447, 218, and 596.
Conservation (2018): 2499, 2354, 2116, 2362, 2758, 2682, 2239A, and 2360. (2019): 552, 661, 410, 170, 663, 268, and 202.