Wyoming Liberty Index, 2011 Methodology

As usual, our methodology is to rate the bills, regardless of how the individual legislators voted on them. Most bills are rated from -2 (most hostile to liberty) to +2 (most favorable). This year, we have added -3 and +3, for particularly egregious and excellent bills, respectively, to the weighted ratings. Associated with the rating is a comment indicating why the rater rated the bill. The spreadsheet applies the bill rating to each vote to obtain a rating for each legislator. These are then summed. We no longer provide a ranking.

The Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet is generated with a custom Perl script, new in 2010 and revised for this year. The script assigns votes for (1) or against (-1) a bill on third reading to each legislator. Raw data come from the digests for each bill on the Legislative Services Office (LSO) web site. In the case of the 2011 session, the raw data come from the 2011 summary.

Similarly, the spreadsheet sums sponsorships and accumulates them into the ratings.

We indicate whether a bill is signed into law or not, but do not rate the governor.

We provide an outcome code for each bill:

These are summed up on each worksheet, then the worksheet sums are accumulated in the Results worksheet.

We provide the LSO's summary (which are sometimes opaque and more technical than the casual citizen would like) in comments. We also provide some of the LSO's fiscal impact statements.

We make an effort to indicate fiscal impact of a bill by scraping the LSO's Fiscal Impact statements. If possible, we apply one of several indicators:

The comments in the fiscal impact row may contain more information. Occasionally, a bill's fiscal impact statement is missing from the web site when we scrape it. In that case, the comment will say, "No fiscal data available."

Budget Bills

The budget is handled in a special way. Each house starts with a budget bill, usually SF1 and HB1. These are identical "mirror" bills. They are amended and voted in parallel in each house. They are then reconciled in committee, and the results submitted back to the two houses. Thus only the House has a third reading vote on HB1, and only the Senate on SF1. Joint Rule 14 (PDF) The spreadsheet reflects that special handling.

New in 2011

The Categories

This year there are 13 categories for bills. As they are new this year, they are in flux. These are rough categories, and different reviewers may assign a bill to different categories. You can find the categories for each bill in the comments for each rating, and in the bill's summary PDF. Each category has a row in the spreadsheet below the legislator rows; there is a 1 for each bill in a category. These are summed on the Results worksheet.

The categories are:

Clarity
In the Roman Republic, one could go down to the local forum and read the law, set out on twelve tablets. Concision and clarity were a hallmark of the laws of the day. In a modern republic, it ought to be possible for a citizen of typical education to be able to read and understand a bill.
Education
Does this bill pertain to education? Education is not necessarily the same as the government school system. As Mark Twain said, never let your schooling get in the way of your education.
Federalism
Does this bill pertain to the concept of federalism, or, more broadly, to subsidiarity? This is what Europeans call the concept that government ought to take place as locally as possible. Thus, does this bill prefer a local solution to a national solution, or visa verse. Of course, the ultimate in local responsibility is individual responsibility.
Free Market
Does this bill encourage or encroach upon the free market?
General Government
The general day-to-day management of government, such as authorizing the purchase of paper clips.
Health Care Freedom
Does this bill inhibit or promote marketplace healthcare solutions that let people choose and control their own health care outcomes.
Individual Rights
"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,… that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,….
Limited Government
This category relates to the idea that governments may do things only in certain ways, that government is limited in its powers. The category subsumes the concept of enumerated powers, which holds that government may do only those things expressly allowed it in its constitution.
Separation of Powers
Government has three main powers, which we separate into branches: the legislative, which creates laws; the executive, which carries them out; and the judicial, which decides questions of law. There is a delicate balance between separation of the three branches so that each may carry out its function, and that of checks and balances, which sees to it that each branch may oversee the others so as to jealously guard the liberties of the people from it.
Spirit and Letter of Founding Documents
This category speaks to the spirit of resistance to tyranny which permeates not only the Constitution and Declaration, but other documents of the day, and their Whig predecessors such as Algernon Sidney and William Lord Russell.
Taxation
Does this bill pertain to taxation?
Transparency
Does this bill speak to open government, open processes? This is related to the checks and balances because the people and other branches cannot check something if they don't know it is occurring. Open meeting laws and publication on the Internet are usually transparency laws.
Usurpation & Delegation of Power
In the US, the theory is that the people have all rights, and government at best has only powers, and then only those powers expressly granted to it by the people. How does this bill fit that model?

The categories also show up on the legislator pages. We show each legislator's score in each category, as though you had created a spreadsheet with only the bills in that category. Note that the average is an average of the per category scores. It is not the same as the overall score in the spreadsheet, and one should be surprised if those two values happen to be equal.

Caveat Lector

The Liberty Index is not intended to be an exact rating. For one thing, it only looks at third reading votes, not at votes on amendments or in committee. In a budget session, a two thirds vote in the house of introduction is required to introduce a bill other than the budget. Clearly these votes affect the fate of a bill. In spite of the precision with which these numbers are displayed, they are at best rough guides. Also, categories may not map well from year to year as categories come and go. House and Senate ratings are not comperable, as the two houses vote on different bills.

2011 provides an interesting example of the variability of rating bills. HB 41 (PDF) received from three different raters a 2, a 1 and a -1, for a net rating of 2. Take ratings of any one with your salt shaker handy.

Final Reflection

Once again, it is interesting to see the results, as members of the legislature seem to track consistently from previous years, despite the changeover in bill raters. The conclusion seems to be that, whatever the differences in political philosophy, people apparently have a fairly consistent understanding of what liberty is.

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