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Measuring legislators by the Freedom Index

Having initially released its scorecard earlier this week with the names of lawmakers redacted — as a protest to the proposed IRS regulations that would limit such activity — the full, non-redacted 2013 Legislative Scorecard has now been published for all 113 Rhode Island legislators by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a nonpartisan think tank.

With the bulk of important votes yet to be taken during the 2014 legislative session, the Center on Wednesday updated its second annual General Assembly Freedom Index and Legislative Scorecard, which ranks Ocean State lawmakers on their level of support of principles of freedom during last year’s 2013 legislative session.

For the 2013 General Assembly Freedom Index, 116 different pieces of legislation (counting companion bills once) were evaluated. The Center judged 93 of them as having a negative effect on freedom. The 2013 General Assembly score of -56.6 indicates that legislators moved Rhode Island in the wrong direction again last year, and that Rhode Islanders are less free and prosperous than they were in 2012. What’s more, this 2013 result is down from a -25.4 score from the previous year, underscoring the Center’s view that the RI General Assembly is not positively addressing the dire economic climate in our state.

With new leadership in the House, it will be interesting to see if this 2014 session leads to enhanced levels of economic and individual liberty in our state. We believe freedom is essential for prosperity; freedom from bills that infringe on our liberties, and freedom to provide transparency and educational information — like our scorecard — to citizens. The political class must be held accountable for their actions.

Overall, 2103 Freedom Index findings showed across-the-board lower scores as compared with 2012; that only two legislators — Representatives Newberry and Costa — finished 2013 with a positive score; and that all factions and all index categories received a negative score last year. The 2013 House of Representatives scored slightly lower than the Senate; Democrats scored over 55 points lower than Republicans in the House, while the party score differential in the Senate was only 23 points.

In total, 116 legislative bills that received a floor vote were selected for evaluation; bills that were deemed to have a positive or negative effect on individual or economic liberty. The bills were then weighted by their perceived impact from -3 to +3. Depending on how legislators actually acted on each bill, they then received positive or negative scores for each vote or non-vote. Dividing his or her total score for all of the bills evaluated by the ideal score for the relevant chamber determined each legislator’s Freedom Index score.

The bills evaluated were divided into five categories: Tax & Budget, Regulatory Environment, Constitutional Government, Public Sector Labor, and Education Reform.

Other 2013 specific index findings include:

• Average House index of -58.6 (down from -24.1 in 2012)

• Average Senate index of -52.4 (down from -27.9)

• Average House Democrat index of -63.1 (down from -32.2)

• Average House Republican index of -7.1 (down from 28.8)

• Average Senate Democrat index of -56.1 (down from -36.3)

• Average Senate Republican index of -33.2 (down from 1)

• Average Regulatory Environment index of -67.5 (down from -49.0)

• Average Tax & Budget index of -37.2 (down from -26.0)

• Average Constitutional Government index of -61.6 (down from -9.1)

• Average Public Sector Labor index of -44.0 (down from 16.7)

• Average Education Reform index of -86.4 (there were no bills in this category last year)

Additional information is available on the Center’s Web site at, including multiple tables, charts, breakdowns by category, criteria, and a methodology description, as well as a legislator-by-legislator breakdown of each bill evaluated in the 2013 index, including category rankings and bill descriptions.

Disclaimer: the Freedom Index score generated for each legislator is a direct reflection of the perspective of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and its subjective weighting of each bill. The Freedom Index is not an absolute measure of a legislator’s merit and does not constitute any endorsement or criticism. The Freedom Index is a tool designed for transparency and public education, helping voters make their own assessment of the body of work of their elected legislators.

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, is the state’s leading free-enterprise research and advocacy organization. The Center works to make a profound, positive impact on the lives of every family and business in the state through the rigorous exchange of market-based ideas and reform solutions aimed at restoring economic competitiveness, educational opportunities and - ultimately - hope for a brighter future.

Mike Stenhouse is CEO of the R.I. Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

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