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This week from Charleston

By Staff | May 10, 2013

I was surprised to be named by a Charleston newspaper last week as one of the top 25 members with a high “batting” average on legislation during the session. There were no other freshmen or Eastern Panhandle legislators in the top 25. The newspaper looked at the total number of bills sponsored by each Delegate and compared it the legislation that actually passed both chambers of the Legislature. I sponsored 64 bills, with 10 making it all the way through for a score of .156. By comparison, number one was a committee chair with an average of .379 (11 out of 29), while at 100, a member with an average of .049 (6 out of 123).

The score is not accurate-or necessarily useful– for many reasons. Three major pieces of legislation that I sponsored that passed were not included as wins because the Senate version of the bill was taken up instead the House version. For example, I was the lead sponsor in the House of the MARC train bill, but after it passed out of the first committee, the House took up consideration of the Senate version, which was essentially identical. Likewise, I was a sponsor of a House bill to fix contributions to the pension system for judges for which a Senate version was adopted. Finally, a bill I co-sponsored to subsidize volunteer fire department workers compensation premiums was passed-but in the special session.

While it is certainly flattering to be included in the list, it is not the best way to gauge effectiveness. A bill like the “Feed to Achieve” bill that seeks to end school hunger is infinitely more substantive than a bill to require all medical personnel to wear name badges (which passed). It is also far more difficult to pass a piece of social legislation-banning discrimination based on sexual orientation– than it is to amend a statute on something dry, like legal descriptions of property by surveyors (which passed). The batting average also does not demonstrate the important work done by committee members.

Some of the best legislation is made that way because a committee makes substantive amendments. The best committee amendments are often bipartisan. One of the most important bipartisan committee amendments that I worked on this year was to alter the so-called Halliburton amendment to the hydraulic fracturing regulations. I worked with one of the most conservative members of the House and one of the most liberal members to make sure that the safety of our water was not compromised by secrecy. The amendment we offered in committee required that all the chemicals in additives used in fracking be reported on. Halliburton had wanted just the additives to be listed. An “additive” can contain hundreds of individual chemical compounds. The amendment easily passed the Judiciary Committee. As a result, the ultimate report on a well must list each chemical. Importantly, none of the people who worked late at night on that amendment have their name attached to the original bill. And there is no way to measure that, which is not necessarily a bad thing.