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Legislative Report Card: Many Ways to Parse the Data

When the community group Generation Now released its biannual legislative report card last week, it provided a swarm of numbers for judging the effectiveness of the 28th Senate and its individual members.

The group rated the lawmakers based on the premise that a legislator’s primary goal is to enact legislation, and by that standard Sen. Sammuel Sanes was far and away the leader in the report card, introducing more than twice the number of bills than most of his colleagues and having far more enacted into law.

But just as islanders can tell you there’s more than one way to peel a mango, there’s also more than one way to parse the data. Looking deeper at the numbers reveals some other interesting results.

However you look at it, Sanes comes out as a leading player in the 28th Senate, submitting 69 bills and seeing 47 enacted for a success rate of 68 percent between the Senate’s opening in January 2009 and the report card’s cutoff date of Aug. 31, 2010. (Generation Now had to draw a line somewhere, explained Desiree Schuster, the chair of its public policy committee, which did the study. Bills are still being debated and voted on, and if there was no cutoff for the study the panel would have had a moving target.)

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But Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone, Wayne James and Usie Richards can lay claim to being more efficient than Sanes, if not as prolific. A few others can as well, but not to the extent of those three.

Malone submitted 39 bills, 34 of which were enacted, and Richards can claim 24 of his 28 bills were passed into law. That gives Malone a success rate of 87 percent, tops in the 28th Senate, and Richards a fraction behind at 86 percent. Wayne James introduced only 21 bills, but 18 were passed, for 86 percent.

For Malone and Richards, that’s even more impressive when you realize that neither of them are members of the majority caucus. The seven senators not part of the majority do not caucus together to plan strategy and do not hold committee chairmanships. Sanes is a member of the majority caucus.

The majority caucus is made up of Senate President Louis Patrick Hill, Sanes, and Sens. Michael Thurland, Patrick Sprauve, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Wayne James, Neville James and Craig Barshinger.
Besides Malone and Richards, the nonmajority senators are Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Nellie Rivera-O’Reilly, Celestino White, Alvin Williams and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg.

As might be expected, the eight members of the majority caucus collectively submitted more bills, including the majority of budget bills, and had more enacted into law than their seven nonmajority colleagues did as a group. But the margins are close 156 to 131 for bills introduced, and 91 to 81 for bills passed into law. And the nonmajority senators, as a group, actually had a higher success rate, 62 percent to 60 percent.

However you look at the numbers, it’s easy to see who has been the least effective member of the 28th Senate. Donastorg, the one-time Senate president and gubernatorial candidate, trails in every statistical category studied by Generation Now.

In January 2009, Donastorg started the session as president of the Senate, but after three months the majority reorganized, removing him from that post amid complaints that under his watch business was not being taken care of. He was replaced by Sen. Louis Patrick Hill and was no longer part of the majority caucus.

During the 20 months covered by the study, Donastorg submitted only 12 bills, and only five of those were enacted, a success rate of only 43 percent, lowest of the 15 lawmakers and one of only two senators whose success rate was below 50 percent. The other was White at 48 percent, and he submitted more than twice as many bills as Donastorg (27 to 12) and had more than twice as many passed (13 to 5.)

And of the 12 bills Donastorg proposed, six were regarded by Generation Now as being of "medium impact," and the other six of "low impact. He was the only member of the Senate to not have introduced a single bill considered by the study’s authors as being of high impact.

The Generation Now legislative report card defines a high-impact bill as "bills that provide sweeping changes and would impact Virgin Islanders territory-wide; may evoke structural change to the government." Medium-impact bills, according to the report, are ones "that provide for medium change," and low-impact bills are ones "that would have minor affect on the community or are part of the normal course of business for the Legislature."

The report gives examples of each. A high-impact bill was the V.I. Smoke-Free Act, which has potential health benefits for every territorial resident. A low-impact bill was the act declaring Sept. 26 as "Responsible Dog Ownership Day."

By that standard, Sanes comes out at or near the top again. Twelve of his bills were rated high-impact by the study, with no other senator breaking double digits in that category.

A breakdown of the 28th Senate ranked by percent of bills introduced that were passed into law, as determines by Generation Now. Each name is marked with an "M" if the senator was a member of the majority caucus and "N" is the senator was not.

Malone (N) – 34 bills passed out of 39 introduced, 87 percent
Richards (N) – 24 of 28, 86 percent
Wayne James (M) – 18 of 21, 86 percent
Sprauve (M) – 22 of 26 85 percent
Nelson (N) – 22 of 29, 76 percent
Dowe (M) – 20 of 28, 71 percent
Thurland (M) – 24 of 36, 67 percent
Sanes (M) – 47 of 64, 68 percent
Neville James (M) – 17 of 25, 68 percent
Williams (N) – 11 of 17, 65 percent
Hill (M) – 29 of 46, 63 percent
Barshinger (M) – 17 of 27, 63 percent
Rivera-O’Reilly (N) – 19 of 33, 56 percent
White (N) – 13 of 27, 48 percent
Donastorg (N) – 5 of 12, 43 percent

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When the community group Generation Now released its biannual legislative report card last week, it provided a swarm of numbers for judging the effectiveness of the 28th Senate and its individual members.

The group rated the lawmakers based on the premise that a legislator's primary goal is to enact legislation, and by that standard Sen. Sammuel Sanes was far and away the leader in the report card, introducing more than twice the number of bills than most of his colleagues and having far more enacted into law.

But just as islanders can tell you there's more than one way to peel a mango, there's also more than one way to parse the data. Looking deeper at the numbers reveals some other interesting results.

However you look at it, Sanes comes out as a leading player in the 28th Senate, submitting 69 bills and seeing 47 enacted for a success rate of 68 percent between the Senate's opening in January 2009 and the report card's cutoff date of Aug. 31, 2010. (Generation Now had to draw a line somewhere, explained Desiree Schuster, the chair of its public policy committee, which did the study. Bills are still being debated and voted on, and if there was no cutoff for the study the panel would have had a moving target.)

But Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone, Wayne James and Usie Richards can lay claim to being more efficient than Sanes, if not as prolific. A few others can as well, but not to the extent of those three.

Malone submitted 39 bills, 34 of which were enacted, and Richards can claim 24 of his 28 bills were passed into law. That gives Malone a success rate of 87 percent, tops in the 28th Senate, and Richards a fraction behind at 86 percent. Wayne James introduced only 21 bills, but 18 were passed, for 86 percent.

For Malone and Richards, that's even more impressive when you realize that neither of them are members of the majority caucus. The seven senators not part of the majority do not caucus together to plan strategy and do not hold committee chairmanships. Sanes is a member of the majority caucus.

The majority caucus is made up of Senate President Louis Patrick Hill, Sanes, and Sens. Michael Thurland, Patrick Sprauve, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Wayne James, Neville James and Craig Barshinger.
Besides Malone and Richards, the nonmajority senators are Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Nellie Rivera-O'Reilly, Celestino White, Alvin Williams and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg.

As might be expected, the eight members of the majority caucus collectively submitted more bills, including the majority of budget bills, and had more enacted into law than their seven nonmajority colleagues did as a group. But the margins are close 156 to 131 for bills introduced, and 91 to 81 for bills passed into law. And the nonmajority senators, as a group, actually had a higher success rate, 62 percent to 60 percent.

However you look at the numbers, it's easy to see who has been the least effective member of the 28th Senate. Donastorg, the one-time Senate president and gubernatorial candidate, trails in every statistical category studied by Generation Now.

In January 2009, Donastorg started the session as president of the Senate, but after three months the majority reorganized, removing him from that post amid complaints that under his watch business was not being taken care of. He was replaced by Sen. Louis Patrick Hill and was no longer part of the majority caucus.

During the 20 months covered by the study, Donastorg submitted only 12 bills, and only five of those were enacted, a success rate of only 43 percent, lowest of the 15 lawmakers and one of only two senators whose success rate was below 50 percent. The other was White at 48 percent, and he submitted more than twice as many bills as Donastorg (27 to 12) and had more than twice as many passed (13 to 5.)

And of the 12 bills Donastorg proposed, six were regarded by Generation Now as being of "medium impact," and the other six of "low impact. He was the only member of the Senate to not have introduced a single bill considered by the study's authors as being of high impact.

The Generation Now legislative report card defines a high-impact bill as "bills that provide sweeping changes and would impact Virgin Islanders territory-wide; may evoke structural change to the government." Medium-impact bills, according to the report, are ones "that provide for medium change," and low-impact bills are ones "that would have minor affect on the community or are part of the normal course of business for the Legislature."

The report gives examples of each. A high-impact bill was the V.I. Smoke-Free Act, which has potential health benefits for every territorial resident. A low-impact bill was the act declaring Sept. 26 as "Responsible Dog Ownership Day."

By that standard, Sanes comes out at or near the top again. Twelve of his bills were rated high-impact by the study, with no other senator breaking double digits in that category.

A breakdown of the 28th Senate ranked by percent of bills introduced that were passed into law, as determines by Generation Now. Each name is marked with an "M" if the senator was a member of the majority caucus and "N" is the senator was not.

Malone (N) – 34 bills passed out of 39 introduced, 87 percent
Richards (N) – 24 of 28, 86 percent
Wayne James (M) – 18 of 21, 86 percent
Sprauve (M) – 22 of 26 85 percent
Nelson (N) – 22 of 29, 76 percent
Dowe (M) – 20 of 28, 71 percent
Thurland (M) – 24 of 36, 67 percent
Sanes (M) – 47 of 64, 68 percent
Neville James (M) – 17 of 25, 68 percent
Williams (N) – 11 of 17, 65 percent
Hill (M) – 29 of 46, 63 percent
Barshinger (M) – 17 of 27, 63 percent
Rivera-O'Reilly (N) – 19 of 33, 56 percent
White (N) – 13 of 27, 48 percent
Donastorg (N) – 5 of 12, 43 percent