The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meets in Washington, DC this week for its "States and Nation Policy Summit," which is one of the ways ALEC crafts and pushes its legislative agenda for the coming year. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz -- who helped push the country to the brink of financial default to thwart the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- headlines the conference on Thursday, December 5. Failed vice-presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his Senator counterpart Ron Johnson (R-WI) will also address the crowd.
But what will happen behind closed doors during the meeting?
ALEC posted part of its legislative agendas for the meeting for the first time this month, while continuing to hide its funders and corporate authors of special interest legislation, as the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported. On ALEC's agenda for 2014 are the following priorities and bills (which will become official ALEC "models" once passed by the task forces -- with corporate lobbyists voting as equals alongside state legislators -- and approved by the board of directors):
Opposing U.S. Consumers' Right to Know the Origin of Our Food:
- More than 90 percent of consumers want labels saying what country the meat (and fruits, vegetables, and fish) they are buying comes from, according to polls. So the introduction of a "Resolution on Country of Origin Labeling" (PDF, p. 19) -- resisting the implementation of what it calls "additional regulations and requirements for our meat producers and processors" -- to ALEC's International Relations Task Force makes clear how beholden ALEC is to Big Ag and multinational corporations rather than U.S. citizens. You can read more about country of origin labeling (COOL) from CMD here and from the blog Bluestem Prairie here.
Undermining Workers' Rights:
- Another bill to undermine unions, masquerading as "employee choice," called the "Public Employee Choice Act" (PDF, p. 6), is effectively "right to work" for public employees, and undermines collective bargaining by allowing workers to freeload off the benefits of union negotiations without paying the costs of union representation. The bill appears to be based on an Oregon 2014 ballot initiative, Initiative 9. It is similar to so-called "right to work," only for public employees, and its euphemistic use of the word "choice" has been appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. The "Public Employee Choice Act Committee" has so far taken in over $52,000 and spent over $36,000 as of November 25, according to campaign finance records filed with the Oregon Secretary of State, which doesn't track the money spent and raised on dark money "issue ads.
- Further efforts to eliminate occupational licensing for any profession, which help ensure that people who want to call themselves doctors, long-haul truckers, accountants, or barbers meet basic standards of training and expertise to guarantee that consumers are safe and get what they pay for. This extreme bill, called the "Private Certification Act" (PDF, p. 11), swims against the current of what most people want, which are to be treated by professionals who meet standards for competence or safety that have been established by law through the democratic process.
Undermining the Rights of Injured Americans to Hold Corporations Accountable:
- Amendments to two bills making it harder for Americans injured or killed by corporations to hold those corporation responsible when their products or practices cause serious harm, called the "Punitive Damages Standards Act" (PDF, p. 15), and the "Noneconomic Damage Awards Act" (PDF, p. 30).
- An amendment (PDF, p. 25) to a bill to make it harder to bring a lawsuit under state consumer protection statutes, called a "Model Act on Private Enforcement of Consumer Protection Statutes."
Undermining Public Education and Lining the Pockets of For-Profit School Companies:
- Two bills to take advantage of concern for young students at risk of not learning to read in order to enrich computer software companies, called the "Early Intervention Program Act" (PDF, p. 6) and the "K-1 Technology-Baed Reading Intervention for English Learners Act" (PDF, p. 8). The former appears to be based on Utah's 2012 HB 513, which since its passage has enriched at least one ALEC corporation, Imagine Learning, to the tune of almost $2 million. Since Imagine did not offer test scores for the beginning and ending of the use of its software in the 2012-2013 school year, little is know of what benefits there may (or may not) have been to students enrolled in the new program, even as it diverted tax dollars from public schools to private corporations.
- Another related bill, ALEC's "Student Achievement Backpack Act," also appears to be based on a Utah bill, 2013 SB 82, which provides access to student data in a "cloud-based" electronic portal format. According to Ed Week, it was inspired by a publication by Digital Learning Now!, a project of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, which has ties to ALEC and is funded in part by Pearson, an international media company that bought out Connections Education, formerly a very active member of ALEC's Education Task Force.
- Another school privatization bill called the "Course Choice Program Act" (PDF, p. 17), which appears to be based on Louisiana's "course choice," or mini-voucher, program. It lets high school students take free online classes if their regular school does not offer it, or if their school had been rated a C, D or F by the state, and began enrollment in 2013. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled its initial funding mechanism from the state's "Minimum Foundation Program" unconstitutional. The state's voucher program has been challenged by the U.S. Justice Department on the grounds that it might promote segregation. A federal judge ruled this month that the federal government has the right to examine voucher assignments in order to make sure that's not happening, according to The Times-Picayune.
Stripping Environmental Protections:
- Two resolutions that continue to oppose to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gases and work to prevent addressing climate change, called the "Resolution in Opposition to EPA’s Plan to Regulate Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act" (PDF, p. 7) and the "Resolution Concerning EPA Proposed Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards for New and Existing Fossil-Fueled Power Plants" (PDF, p. 8). The Supreme Court agreed on October 15 to review the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources like power plants under the Clean Air Act, as CMD reported. The Obama administration and environmental advocates had urged the Supreme Court to reject the case entirely. Environmental regulation experts theorize that the right-wing activists appointed to the court could strip the EPA of its ability to regulate these stationary sources, but that the EPA is on fairly solid legal footing. ALEC's "Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force" (EEA) is populated with fossil fuel corporations that have a vested interest in reducing or eliminating regulation of greenhouse gases -- including American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Energy Future Holdings, Koch Industries, Peabody Coal, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell Oil.
- A new attack on clean energy policies, attempting to slow the growth of the clean energy industry by weakening net metering policies (which reduce energy bills of consumers who install solar panels, for example), called the "Updating Net Metering Policies Resolution" (PDF, p. 11). Brian McCormick, Vice President for Political and External Affairs of the Edison Electric Institute -- a member of ALEC -- helped Arizona Public Service -- another ALEC member -- draft the resolution, as the Energy & Policy Institute's Gabe Elsner reported in the Huffington Post.
- The EEA task force will also gauge "interest for [a] future natural gas, hydraulic fracturing, and pipeline symposium." But ALEC members' "interest" in these extractive and environmentally destructive activities is no secret. Last October, as CMD discovered, outgoing ALEC National Chair John Piscopo, a state Representative from Connecticut, went on an ALEC-organized, all-expenses-paid trip to the Alberta tar sands with eight other ALEC legislators. Keystone XL pipeline company TransCanada and oil interests like the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers sponsored the trip. CMD filed a complaint in Nebraska against Sen. Jim Smith, who never disclosed that he received expensive chartered flights in Canada. Rep. Piscopo also didn't disclose the value of flights, hotel rooms, and meals that he received on the trip, although Connecticut law is not as strict as Nebraska law about such influence peddling.
Limiting Patient Rights and Undermining Safety Net Programs:
- A bill in place of ALEC's previous resolutions in support of "Medicaid block grants," called the "Medicaid Block Grant Act" (PDF, p. 10), which would request "federal authorization to fund the state Medicaid program through a block grant or similar funding." Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has proposed a similar block grant system for Medicaid in several budget proposals. The cuts inherent in this system -- as much as 75 percent -- "would have substantial effects on the ability of millions of low-income Americans to secure health coverage and have access to needed health-care services," according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
- A bill to place new, potentially burdensome restrictions on who can be hired as so-called "insurance navigators" that are providing assistance to people in states to sign up for insurance using the ACA exchanges, called the "Navigator Background Check Act" (PDF, p. 22). Along with an array of other ALEC bills, this would further undermine the effectiveness of the ACA, as CMD has reported.
- A bill to end licensing, certification, and specialty certification for doctors and other medical professionals as requirements to practice medicine in the state and to prohibit the state from funding the Federation of State Medical Boards, euphemistically called the "Patient Access Expansion Act" (PDF, p. 25). This bill was introduced to the task force previously at the 2012 ALEC Winter Task Force Summit and was presumably not approved. It is being re-introduced with no discernible changes.
CMD will be reporting on any news emerging from ALEC's meeting in Washington, DC this week, so stay tuned to PRWatch.org for more. You can also take action to ask Google to stop funding ALEC by clicking here.