(NEW YORK) MintPress — As the public outcry over the Trayvon Martin case reaches fever pitch, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is under scrutiny. Under the law, a person can use deadly force against someone they believe is threatening. Although there is evidence that suggests Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, pursued the teen first, before the encounter that […]
(NEW YORK) MintPress — As the public outcry over the Trayvon Martin case reaches fever pitch, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is under scrutiny. Under the law, a person can use deadly force against someone they believe is threatening. Although there is evidence that suggests Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, pursued the teen first, before the encounter that resulted in the killing, he has claimed self-defense. Many are now calling for the law to be repealed.
But Florida is not alone in implementing laws that critics say provide a legal justification for impinging on civil liberties and human rights. In the past year alone, several state legislatures have passed bills making it harder for minorities and low income people to vote as well as mandating ultrasounds for women seeking an abortion.
What is emerging now is that a little-known organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is behind much of that legislation.
Funded by 23 corporations, including Exxon Mobil, AT&T, Coca Cola and Koch Industries, which comprise its “private enterprise board,” ALEC writes and supplies fully drafted bills to state legislators. On its website, it claims that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law.
ALEC boasts on its new blog, the American Legislator, “We are dedicating this online forum to the more than 2,000 state legislators who call ALEC home. These legislators are committed to the principles of free enterprise, limited government, federalism and individual liberty, and they work every day to promote these ideals in states across the nation.”
In fact, its goals are somewhat more sinister. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC has drafted bills that undermine unions, fight against environmental protection, advocate tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy and promote the privatization of public services.
A recent study of the group’s impact in Virginia alone showed that more than 50 of ALEC’s bills were introduced there, many virtually word for word.
The study, by the liberal group ProgressVA, found that ALEC had been involved in writing bills that would, among other things, prohibit penalizing residents for failing to obtain health insurance, encourage school districts to contract with private virtual-education companies, and call for a federal constitutional amendment to permit the repeal of any federal law on a two-thirds vote of state legislatures.
On the national level, the companies involved in ALEC’s private enterprise board have also been rounding up lobbyists to target federal departments like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). ALEC’s publication “EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck,” for example, outlines steps lawmakers can take to curtail the power of state regulators.
Not surprisingly, many of ALEC’s lobbying efforts have been directed against the health care reform act signed by President Obama in March, 2010.
Of the 23 companies on the board, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has spent the most on lobbying the government.,$57.18 million since 2009. Last year, the drug trade group spent more than $22.74 million on its efforts and hired 156 lobbyists — about 59 percent more lobbyists than any other ALEC company.
Another member of the board is the American Bail Coalition (ABC), which describes itself on its website as the “premier underwriters of criminal court appearance bonds and calls ALEC its “life saver.”
Since becoming involved with ALEC in 1993, ABC has written 12 model bills shoring up the commercial bail industry. In addition to the model bills, ALEC has issued ABC-sponsored State Factors, Legislative Briefs, and studies related to the bail issue.
According to a NPR report in January, 2010, “Some states ban commercial bail bondsmen outright and have the state’s court act as the bail bond business. But in others, the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization backed in part by the bail bond lobby, has worked to pass the Citizen’s Right To Know Act, a law that requires increased reporting of pretrial release information and encouraging the use of commercial bail bondsmen.”
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, given these revelations, that Dennis Baxley, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives and one of the authors of that state’s Stand Your Ground Law, has been strongly involved in gun rights issues. Or that ALEC and the National Rifle Association are close allies.