It was a fantastic 2021 legislative session, all the more exhausting because of the long summer special session to deal with COVID-19 and police and criminal justice reform inspired by the murder of George Floyd. It was also the first ever session held in-part remotely–even the Senate, which was meeting in person in the Richmond Science Museum, had to eventually allow senators to attend floor sessions and cast their votes remotely. With all the exhaustion and obstacles, the Democratic majorities in the General Assembly still managed to get a tremendous amount accomplished.
As we have since we began, we’re rounding up the legislative session with a scorecard that summarizes how the General Assembly voted on bills we cared about. There are lots of caveats, that have been discussed in previous years. (See here for a description and methodology of the 2018 scorecard, the 2019 scorecard, and 2020 scorecard)
We were more aware than ever this year just how hard it is to capture everything relevant to the progressiveness—let alone other important qualities—of legislators in a single index. That’s partly because they have different opportunities to vote on various bills, by virtue of the committee assignments they have. Additionally, many votes aren’t recorded, and many bills strategically aren’t docketed (especially in the House). Many times we see a legislator fight to get a bill over the finish line (or water down a bill, alternately) in ways we cannot capture. Sometimes our favorite bill dies in a way that doesn’t hold accountable whoever killed it.
We did make a small change to our methodology this year to try to address the number of bills that never got a vote and so couldn’t be scored (except for giving + points to cosponsors). We held committee and subcommittee chairs responsible (for better or for worse) for those bills being held up, by counting their decision not to docket a bill as a “no” vote on the bill. This may be too harsh, as these may be Caucus decisions, but with great power comes great responsibility, as they say.
Some bills tackle a progressive issue, but fall short in the final version that’s voted on. (For example the marijuana legalization legislation.) A no vote can be either a vote against the progressive idea, but can also be a vote to scrap this solution and start over. A yes vote can be a vote affirming *this* solution or a vote on the underlying issue, with the hope that keeping it alive allows the Governor to improve it with amendments. For this reason, we decided not to include a handful of bills that were complicated to interpret in this way. Marijuana legalization is one such. The electric school bus pilot was another such—as described here, electrifying school busses is important for the environment, and this is a speedy way to get there; but the amounts Dominion could recoup at the ratepayers’ expense was way too high. (Could this have been improved by the Governor if it had passed? Maybe.
Finally, while we would often very much like to reward patrons of good bills for being patrons, there are several reasons we don’t. Although sometimes a great bill is nothing but the brainchild and sweat and tears of its patron, that’s far from always true. Bills land on the desks of their sponsors via many paths—from another legislator who found herself with too many bills to carry, from a lobbying organization looking for a last second patron for an already drafted bill, from someone more experienced helping out a new legislator, etc. And we sometimes see the opposite, where a legislator hoards all the big and important bills for himself, to the detriment not only of other legislators, but to the detriment of the bills themselves.
So, with that grain of salt, here is the 2021 VAPLAN legislative scorecard. Congratulations to Delegate Cia Price and Senator Jennifer McClellan for earning the top spots this year on our scorecard!
The remainder of the top ten Delegates were: Mark Levine, Betsy Carr, Kathy Tran, Jay Jones, Angelia Williams Graves, Patrick Hope, Marcus Simon, Jeffrey Bourne, Elizabeth Guzman, and Alfonso Lopez.
The remainder of the top ten in the Senate were: Ghazala Hashmi, Mamie Locke, Jeremy McPike, Janet Howell, Jennifer Boysko, Adam Ebbin, Scott Surovell, Lionel Spruill, and Barbara Favola.
The closest to middle of the road in the House were: Democrats David Bulova, Delores McQuinn, Danica Roem, Roslyn Tyler, Steve Heretick; and Republicans Carrie Coyner, Glenn Davis, Robert Bloxom, Roxann Robinson, and Jeffrey Campbell.
Gubernatorial candidates Kirk Cox and Amanda Chase ranked 77th in the House and 34th in the Senate, respectively.