2/17/14 – AJC predicts that LCA Senate Bill 270 has an 89% likelihood of passage.

What are the odds?

New AJC app calculates chances Georgia bills will become law

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Monday, Feb. 17, 2014


Few outside the room knew much about it, but the crowd packed in to see a Senate committee debate SB 270 was passionate about the proposal.

It would create a new city in north DeKalb County called Lakeside, and supporters and opponents sought desperately to sway members of the Senate State and Local Government Operations Committee to their side. What they did not know was that much of what makes a bill pass or fail may have little to do with their passion and much more to do with the information encoded in its legislative DNA.

Using a sophisticated probability model, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has developed a prototype app that predicts the proability whether bills currently before the Georgia General Assembly are destined to become law or more likely to become trashcan fodder.

The app does not assess whether the bill would make a good law. For example, it does not weigh whether there needs to be a new city called Lakeside or whether the Lakeside bill is preferable to competing bills creating other cities in the same area. Instead, it looks at the characteristics of bills that passed or failed in past sessions, and uses those to predict the chances of passage.

Some factors are common sense, such as whether the bill has the backing of the majority party or whether its sponsor is in leadership. But the new tool is the first of its kind in Georgia to estimate the probability of a bill passing.

“What you’re doing is innovative,” Charles Bullock, chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Georgia, who reviewed the AJC’s results, said of the project. “For the interested reader, it would make what happens [in the Legislature] more understandable. For a lobbyist, it might make life much more predictable.”

The app is part of the AJC’s Georgia Legislative Navigator on myajc.com, where readers can track bills, contact lawmakers and keep up with the latest news from the state Capitol.

The app gives SB 270 an 89 percent chance of passage, in large part because it is sponsored by Republican Sen. Fran Millar, a leadership figure in the majority party, and it deals with a local issue. Local bills tend to pass at a higher rate than bills that affect the entire state.

It ranks higher than competing cityhood bills in DeKalb because those bills are all sponsored by Democrats and have no Republican co-sponsors.

The bill passed the Senate committee, with Chairman William Ligon, R-Brunswick, casting the tie-breaking vote.

Moments after he helped pass the bill out of committee, Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, said he found the AJC app’s prediction interesting.

Then he asked what all lawmakers want to know: “What does it say about anything with my name on it?”

The AJC app uses a technique developed by statisticians in the medical field to predict patients’ risk of developing certain diseases. In developing it, the AJC borrowed heavily from the work of Frank Harrell, chair of the Biostatistics Department at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who also reviewed the AJC’s results.

“This is my first exposure to data from politics,” said Harrell, who has spent nearly 35 years working these kinds of statistical models. “It turned out to be even more useful than I thought you were going to find it to be.”

The app gives probability of passage, rather than up-or-down predictions, meaning some bills with low odds will pass. For instance, in a good model, a subset of 100 bills each with a 10 percent chance of passage would likely produce around 10 bills that pass. It’s the law of averages.

“Virtually no model in the social sciences always predicts accurately,” Bullock noted. “The exceptions don’t necessarily disprove the overall model.”

House Bill 21 is one bill that overcame long mathematical odds. It had one sponsor – a Democrat – and affected Georgia law statewide, both strikes against it. As such, the AJC model gave it a 3 percent chance of passage.

But the bill, which makes post-adoption contracts for child visitation or contact with birth relatives legally binding, passed both chambers last year and became law July 1.

“Your model probably doesn’t measure the fact that I’m experienced and have a lot of expertise in maneuvering,” said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, the bill’s sponsor.

Oliver said adoption is a very personal topic and she did not go looking for co-sponsors. Instead, she held lots of personal conversations with lawmakers, educating them about the issue.

“Personal relationships will trump your formula any day of the week,” she said. “Work like crazy is generally a good formula for me.”

Jet Toney, a longtime Capitol lobbyist, said the passion of the lawmaker whose name comes first on the bill is a key component in getting a bill to move. If the primary sponsor desperately wants the bill to pass, it can give a bill legs, he said.

The AJC app is a prototype that will continue to evolve, incorporating new factors that affect a bill’s chances as well as insight the paper receives from experts on the process and the statistics community. But statistical models may never be able to embrace intangibles, like passion.

About the predictor

Atlanta Journal-Constitution data visualization specialist John Perry assembled information on more than 14,000 bills introduced since 2001, each labeled with votes, sponsorship and text summaries, to create the Georgia Legislative Navigator for the AJC’s website. Then he and data specialist Jeff Ernsthausen recognized this would create a rare opportunity. That enormously detailed data could be used to, in essence, calculate the odds that a bill would pass. That could shine a light on the often murky legislative process and the factors that hurt or help bills.

So Ernsthausen consulted with academic experts in the quantitative methods, starting with Professor Charles Bullock, chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Georgia and a close observer of the Georgia Legislature. To identify the factors that might influence a bill’s outcome, he recommended a technique, logistic regression, originally developed for predicting whether individuals would develop certain diseases based on key risk factors.

A book by Professor Frank Harrell, chairman of the Department of Biostatistics at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine became our statistical bible, and Harrell also provided advice and reviewed the AJC’s results. Gary King, director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, also provided some guidance and Professor John Stasko of the Georgia Institute of Technology provided advice and software used to identify key terms in each bill’s summary text.

The model is based on many obvious factors influencing a bill’s fate – the party of the bill’s sponsor, the number of co-sponsors, and whether certain leadership figures were a sponsor — and some not so obvious ones. In the latter category were such things as how close to the end of the session a bill was submitted and some of the wording in the bill’s summary. We looked at whether the summary included certain social issues terms that refer to abortion, gun control, prayer in school, alcohol or controlled substances. And we included a variable for terms like “city of” and “county of,” since so many bills that move through the Legislature are local bills with a higher overall passage rate.

Ernsthausen tested the AJC model by comparing its predictions with the actual outcomes of bills in earlier sessions. The result: This beta model does a reasonably good job of predicting the odds of passage for the bulk of bills that pass through the Legislature each year.

Online: Learn more about what the predictor does and does not do. http://legislativenavigator.myajc.com/

Rhea A Johnson Jr February 18, 2014 at 07:48 AM
"Local bills tend to pass at a higher rate"…….Don't think SB 270 is a Local bill.
Keith Hanks February 18, 2014 at 09:19 AM
Isn't Stonecrest slated at 45%? If that's the case, need to consider 89 - 45, because with Stonecrest not clearing a feasibility study I don't see how it has a 50/50 shot.
TruthWillSetYouFree February 18, 2014 at 10:59 AM
Who cares what percentage it has. It's percentage of passing us citizens is very small.
RandyRand February 18, 2014 at 11:10 AM
Keith, Las Vegas Casino’s are built on the house having 55% probability and guests having 45% probability so let’s not overstate Stonecrest’s odds here. In contrast, if Vegas only provided its guests with 11% odds of winning, the place would be empty of gamblers but there would still be some fools.
Brett February 18, 2014 at 06:53 PM
Truth - you may be right as I only know what I hear from neighbors I've specifically discussed this issue with. I count 30 for and 2 uncertain. A few months ago many more were undecided or flat out against cityhood. Now it seems a growing number feel it's in their best interest and they will vote for it.
TruthWillSetYouFree February 19, 2014 at 08:08 AM
Brett. What area are you? My neighbors for the most part are against it if its the LCA map with OTP included. The only one they are open to is the something closer to the COBI map. They are also not fans of LCA because they know they are beholden to outside interests who have been their biggest donors. They see how much money has been funneled back to these same interests in Brookhaven on things like frivolous lawsuits and are not interested in this area becoming Brookhaven 2.0.
Roger Kennedy February 19, 2014 at 08:22 AM
Truth (not), keep throwing out those red herrings. Coleman Talley did not have anything to do with the Pink Pony lawsuit. Every city has to have an attorney, and nobody is going to let Bill Riley have any place in a Lakeside government.
Brett February 19, 2014 at 08:28 AM
I'm in Oak Grove and my impression is not that most have a strong preference of one city proposal over an over. It's that we believe we'd likely be better off in either one and Lakeside has a better chance of success than COBI. If given the chance to choose between the two I'd likely choose the COBI map. But I'll support Lakeside if it's the only realistic option.
TruthWillSetYouFree February 19, 2014 at 08:55 AM
Roger fair enough but the Brookhaven attorneys are sure getting rich off a lawsuit (what did they make on Century City which they dropped) thats never been won anywhere else and one the Brookhaven residents are largely against. (Pony Suit) Is this what i should look forward to with my new local control? Sounds like what I already have with Dekalb. I wonder what wasteful lawsuits Coleman Talley will bring to line their pockets and recoup their large investment in this process.
Tom Doolittle February 19, 2014 at 09:06 AM
Referendum votes are based on turnout. Any election depends on a "base"--those that are passionate about a candidate or issue--for or against. More passion is also generated by negative campaigning. The lower the turnout the more chance the "base" has for determining the vote. So the question is, in the election stage of this (after the House Committee decides to move it along and the General Assembly votes--presumably its 89% for)--the question becomes how effective the referendum campaign is at reaching voters-- (1)WHERE they want to get them--and where they don't. (2) how effective they are at making DeKalb the issue and not getting "stuck in the weeds" of a more "affirmative" campaign.
TruthWillSetYouFree February 19, 2014 at 09:10 AM
Brett. We must live on different streets. Personally I think Oak Grove is great. We have almost no crime, no zoning problems and while I suppose we could use a park I'm not sure where the land is for it. While I would seriously consider a COBIish map I can't get behind a Lakeside City that does not represent where I spend my money and time. Whats the point of bring in OTP? They bring nothing of value to us ITP. I also can't get behind a bill that was largely funded by outside interests and spearheaded by no one I was able to vote for or against. Fran Millar does not represent us and is not looking out for us. I rather vote it down and demand from my actual elected officials a city that truly represents our area. I'm sure Lakesides talking point going forward will be to scare us into thinking this is our only chance which is BS. If the people of this area demand from our actual elected officials a city to vote on they will have no choice but to abide by our wishes.
RandyRand February 19, 2014 at 09:59 AM
So if we sum up TWSYF’ views of the Oak Grove area residents he claims: They are big supporters of the Pink Pony strip clubs “business rights” and the majority believes city zoning should never be used to attempt to clean up seedy areas. Addtionally, Oak Grove folks will throw out the only cityhood baby with the bath water if it’s not COBI or includes areas outside 285. Oh and according TWSYF, because Fran Millar is the only effective pro cityhood representative, he doesn’t represent any pro cityhood interest in Oak Grove! Really TWSYF? Is this how Oak Grove area residents roll? My bet is far from it!
Brett February 19, 2014 at 10:16 AM
My take is the average person knows far less than you guys seem to be assuming about what's going on with cityhood. People aren't thinking about whether they want COBI or Lakeside as much as those that post here. Not everyone reads The Patch and many have no idea what any of this truly means. They're considering whether or not there may be benefit to having more local control, what effect would it have on taxes, would it simply create another layer of corrupt or inefficient government, etc. Truth - I would submit the current state of Oak Grove has nothing to do with this. It's the concern for the future everyone should be considering. So my question is why should I support one over the other? What does COBI offer me over Lakeside and vice versa? If Lakeside has the best chance of success, why should I vote against it in hopes of another option that may or may not avail itself even further down the road?
TruthWillSetYouFree February 19, 2014 at 10:19 AM
I can only speak for myself but I could care less about the Pink Pony. Have not been there in years and it seems the residents of Brookhaven could care less about it to as they are against the suit. All they are doing is wasting money on a suit that the strip clubs have never lost. Fortunately there are no seedy areas in Oak Grove to worry about so I don't need a city to help me out with that anyway. I get that your area with its high crime and low property values need my tax dollars to clean it up but I'm not into subsidizing people of your kind. May I suggest moving up to Cobb where I think you'll find more people who support your backwards views on things.
TruthWillSetYouFree February 19, 2014 at 10:26 AM
Brett. My take is LCA will come with a lot of the same as Dekalb. Elected officials looking out for themselves and rewarding those who have lined their pockets. They have already run a dishonest campaign to date in not admitting they are an advocacy group and it concerns me that their biggest donors have zero connection to this area. The only reason to go with the city in my opinion would be to get the schools but thats not an option right now. I wasn't unhappy with Oak Grove before LCA thrusted itself onto us so why add another layer of dirty politicians to the mix now. I see no benefit currently.
RandyRand February 19, 2014 at 10:52 AM
More distortion from the faux COBI backer and always Anti Cityhood TWSYF! Lakeside Alliance does NOT get to pick the new city leaders, the local people do! How would local voter selected leaders act in favor of big donors without resident objections? Apparently TWSYF believes our area is filled with “dirty” politicians too but he can't point to any that represent him! TruthWSYF is the guy that wants Dekalb County to be the only choice, he’s vested in preventing his loss of influence and the county cronyisms he supports! My bet is that he doesn't even live inside our map!
TruthWillSetYouFree February 19, 2014 at 11:02 AM
I get we get to pick them but the history is those that push to have the city end up in office. They then reward those who helped them create the city. Sounds like what I already get from Dekalb. I don't need any more layers to deal with.
Brett February 19, 2014 at 11:16 AM
Truth - Our group also initially expressed concerns about "more layers" but decided we'd rather have the possibility of any local control possible as opposed to leaving it to Dekalb County to act in our best interests. This seems obvious to me, and your arguments appear based on conjecture: LCA will be the same as Dekalb, elected officials will be looking to line their own pockets, another layer of dirty politicians, etc. You're saying you already have those same issues with Dekalb County but you don't want to even attempt to do anything about it. At least, that's what I'm getting from your comments.
TruthWillSetYouFree February 19, 2014 at 11:23 AM
Brett. City or no City we will still mostly be reliant on Dekalb. If I remember right the three things LCA wants to control of are the police, parks and zoning. I have no problems with any of the three so why add another layer potential dirty politicians to contend with. Instead of all this energy and money going into creating City Lite how about those LCA members and Millar focus on fixing Dekalb since its not going away and still in our lives in a big way no matter what happens.
Brett February 19, 2014 at 11:55 AM
I guess we just see things differently. I see zoning related issues in the area that could have been handled better and I have concern for future zoning, crime, and park issues. I come from a much larger municipality that was comprised of cities and villages with a good bit of local control and locally elected officials that had pride in their communities. It might be naive on my part, but I have hopes for more of that here. I'm also not ready to throw in the towel and assume any newly elected politicians will automatically be dirty. Are you saying if we elected clean officials you'd be happy with it? Or is that not even possible in your mind?
Longerthanu February 19, 2014 at 12:00 PM
Hey Truth, you are aware that Brookhaven is NOT suing the Pink Pony, right? It's the other way around... and Brookhaven won the latest round. I'm against the suit, too. I think PP should drop it, let Brookhaven's zoning stand to protect neighborhoods from future strip clubs, and negotiate the same sweet deal they had with DeKalb.
TruthWillSetYouFree February 19, 2014 at 12:12 PM
I would love clean politicians but they just don't seem to be exist. A lot of these new cities seem to be having ethics issues. If I was going to vote for a city I would at least want it to reflect what i feel is my community. The COBI map for the most part does that. It was also deemed the more feasible option for our area. The Lakeside map makes no sense to me. It includes OTP which I personally have no connection to and only think hurts us. i also don't like how it eats up a large part of Tucker. I think Tucker unlike our area is actually a large mostly definable community. I would bet most people thought Tucker was already a city. Why are we stealing a large piece of it? Let them do their own thing if they choose. So to answer your question yes i would be happy to have clean officials but something about LCA has stunk to me from the beginning. Given the choice I rather stay with what I have and see if we can get a better option. I'm not one to really settle for the second best option.
TruthWillSetYouFree February 19, 2014 at 12:35 PM
Longer yes you are correct but Brookhaven knew its actions would result in them being sued. Brookhaven may have won the latest round but the place is still open as far as I know. There is a long way to go. I guess you and Randy only believe in free market and no government interference in business when it suits your moral beliefs or self interests?
Longerthanu February 19, 2014 at 02:17 PM
And the PP may well stay open. The point of the zoning wasn't to shut down PP. It was to keep other strip clubs from opening all over Brookhaven, on the fringes of neighborhoods -- which most people don't want. Ask anyone who lives within Gunshot-hearing distance of Strokers. I don't have any issues with Pink Pony or nude establishments, so don't put damn words in my mouth or "guess" my sentiments. You don't know me. You are simply making assumptions based on the fact that I don't walk in lockstep with you. Knock it off.
RandyRand February 19, 2014 at 02:24 PM
What is going on in Brookhaven is Brookhaven’s issue but I certainly don’t believe in ignoring the law or the local voters. Brookhaven was created by it’s own residential voters, in part to deal with zoning law issues which were being weakly applied by Dekalb. What kind of lazy excuse or sorry inference will you make up next TWSYF?
Tom Doolittle February 19, 2014 at 04:20 PM
We've never gotten real clear or specific about what the "zoning" interests are from the average person on the street. However, I'd start with the average person on this blog. I'm not necessarily asking for the complaints--I'm more interested in what you're interested in--specifically. BTW--my guess is the zoning "service" you want isn't where the real benefit is to the "zoning" department when it comes to a city govt being "closer to the people" (in other words, different than DeKalb). The fact is, by the time a "zoning" application is made and a hearing is held where you would have to lobby against it, the decision to support has already been made for reasons you have no idea exists--like a finance authority already issuing bonds, tax breaks, loan guarantees and TADs. By then, a rejection is out of the question--what you get at best is a delay until the heat is off or a cosmetic "downgrade" in density--and DeKalb does all of that.
Tom Doolittle February 19, 2014 at 04:36 PM
This article is about the prediction model. Fact is, on a referendum, once one is proposed, they sail thru--period. These guys do most of their "testing" ahead of time--in fact on really troublesome issues (or those that the AJC takes issue with)--they either do preliminary polling (liquor) or recently have done straw votes (mock elections)--gambling. My point is--after all of that, on statewide issues, a referendum is a done deal with the General Assembly WHEN ONE IS PUT TO A VOTE. Therefore, for referendums, this model described above isn't needed--except perhaps to what...INFLUENCE THE PRELIMINARY DISCUSSIONS. BTW--local referendums for cities SHOULD be dealt with more seriously than the normal special-interest referendums that most voters don't even understand--and are heavily influenced by the preamble on the ballot.


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