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TLCV rates Houston legislators

Actually, the Texas League of Conservation Voters has put out its scorecard for the entire Lege, but I’m just going to summarize it for the Harris County contingent. You can see the whole thing here (PDF), and I’ve reproduced their email beneath the fold. Here are the results for the Harris delegation to the House:

Name Score Grade =================================== Alma Allen (D) 93% A+ Kevin Bailey (D) 83% A Dwayne Bohac (R) 38% D Bill Callegari (R) 31% F Ellen Cohen (D) 88% A Garnet Coleman (D) 100% A+ Joe Crabb (R) 35% F John Davis (R) 41% D Harold Dutton (D) 77% B Gary Elkins (R) 26% F Jessica Farrar (D) 87% A Patricia Harless (R) 25% F Ana Hernandez (D) 92% A+ Scott Hochberg (D) 96% A+ Borris Miles (D) 100% A+ Jim Murphy (R) 35% D Rick Noriega (D) 96% A+ Debbie Riddle (R) 29% F Wayne Smith (R) 23% F Robert Talton (R) 25% F Senfronia Thompson (D) 100% A+ Sylvester Turner (D) 59% C Corbin Van Arsdale (R) 32% F Hubert Vo (D) 96% A+ Beverly Woolley (R) 28% F

Note that every Craddick D scored worse than every non-Craddick D, though they still scored better than every Republican. Overall, only two Republicans scored as high as 50% – Delwin Jones (52%), and the newest member of the Democratic contingent, Kirk England (69%).

There isn’t a comparable level of detail for the Senate, since there were far fewer environmental bills voted on over there. Special mention is given to Sen. Mike Jackson and his infamous SB1317, and to Sen. Dan Patrick, who apparently opposed every clean air bill that came up. Click on for a summary of that from the TLCV email, or go to the full report.

UPDATE: Fixed incorrect grades for Dwayne Bohac, Ana Hernandez, and Jim Murphy. Thanks to Thomas in the comments for the catch.

Texas League of Conservation Voters Grades Legislature

Houston legislators rated on Toxics, Clean School Buses, and Clean Air; Sen. Jackson and Patrick named to “Worst” list

(AUSTIN) – State Sen. Mike Jackson has the ignoble distinction of championing the worst environmental bill of the year in Texas, according to a scorecard of the 2007 legislative session released today by the Texas League of Conservation Voters (TLCV).

“We expect this to be an issue with many voters in the 2008 election,” said Colin Leyden, TLCV’s Executive Director. “Jackson is going to have to explain why it was so important to him to stop Houston from protecting the health and safety of its citizens.”

Frustrated over the state’s lack of action in addressing toxic “hotspots” in Houston, Mayor Bill White Mayor Bill White proposed that Houston should be able to regulate toxics using a city nuisance ordinance. Jackson’s polluter lobby-backed bill prohibited a municipality from regulating air pollution through ordinance.

During floor and committee debate, it often appeared as if Sen. Jackson either did not understand his own bill, or was being purposely misleading. Despite being told otherwise, he repeatedly told fellow Senators that Texas should let the EPA do their job of regulating toxics and seemed to think that the issue was part of ongoing efforts to reduce area smog. Unlike NOx and other major ozone contributors, the EPA does not regulate toxic emissions.

“It’s difficult to know which is worse – willful ignorance, or deceit,” said Leyden. Sen.Jackson joined Sen. Patrick as being TLCV’s “Worst” senators. Not all the news from the Senate was bad for Houston. Senators Ellis and Gallegos were both named to the TLCV “Best” list for their efforts.

The TLCV scorecard rates legislators on their actions to protect the state’s air, water, and other natural resources. The scorecard provides objective, factual information about conservation voting records, and helps hold the Texas Legislature accountable. Each vote scored presented a clear choice for our elected officials to uphold the conservation values shared by Texans.

The 27 votes analyzed by the League’s House scorecard included several votes and issues that will be of great interest to Houston voters in the upcoming 2008 legislative races.

The House also had the opportunity to address toxics legislation. During debate over SB 12, the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Dennis Bonnen, accepted two amendments that would help reduce toxic air emissions. Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s “motion to instruct” is a common method to inform conference committee members of important provisions the House wants protected during negotiations with the Senate.

Two Houston-area Republicans, Rep. Bohac and Rep. Davis, broke from their party and voted in favor of Rep. Thompson’s motion. Both Bohac and Davis are in competitive districts and faced criticism in the 2006 election for their previous voting record on toxics. Last session, all Houston-area Republicans voted against efforts to fix toxic air emissions.

“The good news is that the political process is working. A few legislators who felt the heat over their bad voting record are now listening to voters. Their vote is important, but now we need them to show some leadership and stand up to the House leadership by filing bills and sponsoring legislation,” said Leyden.

Fifteen separate bills were filed in the House addressing toxic air emissions, all by Democrats, but Environmental Regulations Committee Chair, Dennis Bonnen, refused to hear a single one. He also threatened to kill his own clean-air bill rather than allow a floor vote on toxic air amendments.

Another House vote of interest to the Houston-area was an amendment to protect children from asthma as well as exposure to dangerous chemicals by providing funds to clean up diesel emissions in Texas school buses. Studies show that toxic pollution levels inside old diesel school buses can be five times higher than background levels due to emissions from crankcases and tailpipes.

This amendment was opposed by 20 of the 35 House members who represent constituents living in the Houston non-attainment area. The amendment drew bi-partisan support , but Rep. Dwayne Bohac was the only Houston-area Republican to vote in favor of it. Those who voted against it (overall TLCV score included) include Representatives: Dennis Bonnen (F), Bill Callegari (F), Joe Crabb (F), Brandon Creighton (F), John Davis (D), Harold Dutton (B), Rob Eisler (F), Gary Elkins (F), Patricia Harless (F), Charlie Howard (F), Jim Murphy (D), Mike O’Day (D), John Otto (F), Debbie Riddle (F), Wayne Smith (F), Robert Talton (F), Larry Taylor (F), Corbin Van Arsdale (F), Beverly Woolley (F), and John Zerwas (D). All Democrats except Rep. Dutton voted in favor of the amendment.

“Legislators are going to have to answer to voters as to why they voted against funding a program to clean up toxic emissions that our school children breathe every time they ride the bus,” said Leyden. Funding for the program was supported by the Texas PTA and other groups.

A Quick Look at the House Numbers for the Houston area

This year’s scorecard includes votes on some important conservation legislation which passed with unanimous or near-unanimous consent because of its “apple pie” type qualities. This was also due in part to a positive House procedural change requiring all final votes on bills to be recorded. This caused all legislators to start with a much higher “base” score than in previous years.

Average Houston-area House Score: 56% ……………….Entire House Average: 57%
Average Houston-area Republican Score: 31% ………… All Republicans in House: 32%
Average Houston-area Democratic Score: 89% ………….. All House Dems: 84%
Perfect Houston-area 100’s: 3 …………………………….. Entire House: 11
Overachievers (A+): 9 above 90% …………………………… Entire House: 36
Houston-area Failures (F): 15 below 35% ………………….. Entire House: 56
Highest Houston-area Republican Score: John Davis 41%
Lowest Houston-area Democrat Score: Sylvester Turner 59%

A complete House scorecard with vote descriptions can be found at www.tlcv.org

“In general, the scorecard reflects moderate, forward progress on conservation issues in Texas,” said Leyden. “But the real story of last session is that Texas is no longer moving backwards. Unlike previous sessions, conservation advocates didn’t have to spend vast amounts of time fighting bad bills.”

The 2007 Legislature did manage to take a few small steps forward. Thanks to the work of a large and diverse group of advocates, state parks finally received a much needed boost in funding. A modest energy efficiency bill was passed. Bills succeeded to protect rivers and bays and promote water conservation. And the money to fund state programs for clean air initiatives in large urban areas was re-appropriated back into the program.

There were, however, numerous missed opportunities to fix dirty power plant permitting, address climate change, and secure a cleaner more sustainable energy future for Texas.

The Senate made more progress on conservation than the House, and Speaker Tom Craddick continues to be the biggest obstacle to reasonable conservation legislation in the legislature. Craddick’s appointment to chair the Environmental Regulations Committee, Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen, effectively killed any sensible environmental legislation that is opposed by the polluter lobby. Bills on global warming, toxic air emissions, school bus emissions, and global warming that passed the Senate never saw the light of day or were weakened in the House.

“It’s clear we need to clean up the Texas House,” said Leyden. “In 2008, our PAC will focus even more resources defending conservation allies, and defeating enemies.” In the 2006 election, the TLCV Political Action Committee helped elect three challengers who defeated bad incumbents, defend two good incumbents, and win two open seats for the conservation community.

“The political winds for both political parties are shifting in Texas, with conservation issues like clean air and global warming becoming top issues for concerned voters,” said Leyden. “We’re confident that this trend will only increase as we head into the 2008 political season, and our scorecard will be a useful tool for voters to assess their incumbents – and vote accordingly.”

Senate Highlights, Heroes, and Despots

There were not enough record votes in the Senate for a meaningful scorecard, but a complete Senate narrative with highlights and specific votes can be found at www.tlcv.org

The Best

Sen. Rodney Ellis – One of the first bills Sen. Ellis (Houston) filed was SB 124, which provided stricter vehicle emissions standards in Texas. Sen. Ellis also filed a bill, SB 860, calling for a two year moratorium on the permitting of any new coal fired power plants in Texas.

Sen. Kirk Watson – Freshman Senator, Kirk Watson, had a flawless voting record, and also authored two of the most important conservation bills of the session. The Senate overwhelmingly passed Sen. Watson’s SB 529, which authorized the use of surplus money within existing clean air programs to reduce dirty emissions from Texas school buses. Sen. Watson also introduced and passed SB 1687, the “no regrets” global warming bill. This bill required the state environmental agency to identify strategies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save consumers money or cost nothing.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh – El Paso Senator, Eliot Shapleigh, has a long history fighting for the health and safety of his constituents and protecting our state’s natural resources. This session, Shapleigh filed bills to strengthen TCEQ air permitting rules, and passed legislation to study the effects of climate change on the Rio Grande.

Sen. Mario Gallegos – Two Senate bills, SB 1924 and SB 1855, by Sen. Mario Gallegos, addressed toxic air emissions. Scientific studies by the City of Houston and health, environmental and medical branches of Texas universities, confirm that levels of toxins in Texas’ air threaten the public’s health. This is specifically a problem in Houston, where industry emissions have created toxic “hotspots”.

The Worst

Sen. Mike Jackson – Sen. Jackson has the ignoble distinction of championing the worst environmental bill of the session, SB 1317. Frustrated over the state’s lack of action in addressing toxic “hotspots” in Houston, Mayor Bill White proposed that Houston should be able to regulate toxics using a city nuisance ordinance. SB 1317 prohibited a municipality from regulating air pollution through ordinance.

Sen. Dan Patrick – Sen. Patrick’s 2007 record on conservation is easily summed up. If legislation before the Senate attempted to clean our air, address climate change, or protect children from harmful school bus emissions – he was against it.

Dishonorable Mention

Sen. Eddie Lucio – Instead of joining 10 other senators to block the polluter-backed SB 1317 from being heard, Sen. Lucio, after saying he’d help, registered as “present not voting”. The bill was free to move forward and eventually passed the Senate.

The Texas League of Conservation Voters and the affiliated TLCVPAC is dedicated to electing legislators who conserve Texas air, water, parks, public lands and public waters, and defeating those who don’t.

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One Comment

  1. Thomas says:

    You have posted incorrect scores for Bohac, Hernandez and Murphy.