“The first decades of the 21st century are expected to decide the quality of life, locally and globally, far into the future. As 2010 approaches, understanding the pace of progress toward sustainable practices – whether efforts to manage environmental risks are catching up or falling behind – takes on new urgency.”
So begins the report summary for “Keeping Up Or Falling Behind: Outcomes of the 2009 CT Session for Environmental Issues” released, introduced, announced or launched yesterday by CT EarthNet and its team of environmental and technological gurus (or geniuses) including executive director Brendan Hanrahan, Nancy Hanrahan and David Smith. The report is available on the organization’s website: www.ctearthnet.org.
In the same true team spirit Hanrahan has had since he started building the Connecticut Earth Network – the most comprehensive database of environmental individuals and groups with any interest at all in what is happening with Connecticut’s environment – Hanrahan has developed a review of the outcomes of the 2009 Connecticut legislative session for environmental management issues using a “relational data application” developed by CT EarthNet.
The “relational database,” for those who are not techies, will allow regular Joes, like you and me, as well as environmental advocates, to evaluate environmental progress, legislatively and otherwise.
“We hope people will offer their opinions about the metrics we’ve built so far and offer ideas for other measures,” Hanrahan told CT Environmental Headlines. “We hope everyone will use this to improve their strategic planning and to get more progressive environmental bills passed.”
The report’s “heat maps” show, graphically, who’s voting on what most. They make information that would normally take hours or days to compile available so easily it’s almost embarrassing.
The first area of the report allows users to quickly look at all the different issues and see how they progressed through the legislative session, which, in and of itself, should create an important dialogue.
“We’d like to initiate a conversation about the pace of progress on environmental issues,” Hanrahan said. “What improvements do we have to make, for example, to meet deadlines we have on pressing issues like climate change and land use?”
“So let’s understand the pace,” Hanrahan summarized., “and if we’re not moving fast enough, what do we have to do to catch up?”
The second part of the report called “Issue Heat Maps,” generates heat maps showing how hot or cold issues were, based on total votes in the House or Senate. Issues include “Recycling and Waste,” “Health and Toxics,” and “Transportation.” The temperature of an issue is shown by colored districts (key at right) indicating the number of votes cast by the district’s legislator (mouse over district to see legislators/votes cast).
The next section, “Bill/Action Voting Maps” provides data maps of the voting record (mouse over to see the legislator/vote). Districts where a legislator cast a yea vote for a bill/action are green. Nays are red. Yellow indicates absence; gray abstention.
Which legislators are leaders? Check the boxes on the left in the Leadership Index section of the report to see graphical representations of legislators based on based on party (majority/minority), caucus title, committee title, committee membership. Bars show points accrued in a given area; numbers above a running total. Total points are compared to a maximum to calculate index. This is provocative stuff, and it doesn’t stop there.
Another part of the report shows a list of legislators in descending order based on total votes cast about environmental bills. Clicking a legislator generates a table listing the percent of their voting by issue. The first column lists issues; the second lists the percentage of the selected legislator’s total votes by issue.
Another table lists legislators in descending order by absence rate. The first column shows total recorded absences; the second shows opportunities to vote; the third shows absence rate.
The next section of the report shows which votes followed party lines. Clicking on a bill or action generates a graphic showing how Democrats and Republicans voted. Votes contrary to the majority of a party count as “crossover” votes, legislators crossing over are listed. The next section shows how often a legislator votes against their party?
Another section shows which legislators voted similarly to a selected legislator – based on comparisons of voting records, cross-over voting, introduced and sponsored bills. The further from the center a legislator appears, the less similar their records are to the selected legislator at center.
It’s all very intriguing to a layman, journalist, or grassroots activist. But Hanrahan explains some of the importance of having the data organized and displayed in the way CTEarthNet has done in this report.
“If we look at lobbying expenditures and operating expenditures for 29 environmental groups that spend the most in lobbying, and we look at legislative returns, by issue, then the hope is that we will be able to be predictive of outcomes,” Hanrahan said.
“If an advocate wants to get a bill passed and has three ways he or she might go about getting that bill passed, we think we can run those options through similar analyses and others currently in development and determine which approach is most likely to succeed.”