After weeks of pressure, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) appears to be backing away from long-term efforts at creating barriers to voting (voter-ID laws) and pushing “Stand Your Ground” legislation. The latter allows those who feel threatened in public places to use force; Florida’s version is currently at the center of the Trayvon Martin case. Giving in to public pressure, ALEC announced Tuesday that it was disbanding its Public Safety and Elections task force, which promoted such legislation and helped see it proliferate. The organization is now “reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy.” ALEC’s spokesperson did not respond to interview requests nor did Public Safety Task Force Chair Jerry Madden, a Texas state representative.
ALEC, which proudly calls itself “the nation’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators,” has operated as a largely secret arena in which corporate sponsors and conservative legislators share ideas. The group offers model legislation to its members, which has in the past simply been introduced in legislatures unchanged. While the group says its goals are job growth and economic development, it has actively promoted voter-ID legislation to make it harder to vote as well as anti-union measures and those to limit lawsuits. The group also pushes for law taxes and decreased regulation.
As controversy grew around the slaying of Trayvon Martin and Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws, ALEC found itself on the ropes. The Martin shooting sparked widespread public outcry. Civil-rights group Color of Change helped lead public campaigns against ALEC and its affiliated companies for its support of such laws. In the face of growing grassroots pressure over the last few weeks, major ALEC corporate members like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have dropped membership, as have McDonald’s, Kraft Food, Mars and others. Just Monday, a New York Times editorial slammed ALEC for its role in promoting Stand Your Ground legislation.
In the statement announcing the end of the Public Safety and Elections task force, the organization shifted its focus to “free-market, limited government, pro-growth policies.”
But this hardly constitutes a victory. ALEC still has a variety of task forces: There’s the Civil Justice Task Force, Education Task Force, and Health and Human Safety Task Force, all of which seem a bit removed from the group’s ostensible goals. The Civil Justice Task Force’s efforts appear largely focused on tort reform, as evidenced by the latest initiative “Expanding the Law Under New Restatement of Torts” and its latest publication, “The State Legislator’s Guide: Tort Reform Boot Camp.”
Then there’s the disturbing impact on health care and education. As The Nation showed in its “ALEC Exposed” series, the group has lobbied all out against health-care reform, while its education task force, headed partially by an executive for the for-profit online education company Connections Academy, has pushed hard for vouchers and increased privatization in American public schools. Its latest publication, a report card on education, begins with by comparing the battle over education reform to the World War II, with teacher unions being—you guessed it—Germany and Japan.
In the end, the Public Safety and Elections task force has already had its success. Voter-ID laws have proliferated around the country, making voting harder for poor and minority Americans. And according to the Times, Stand Your Ground is already law in 24 states.
Color of Change and its boycott isn’t likely to stop the pressure any time soon. In a statement responding to the news, executive director Rashad Robinson didn’t mince words: “To simply say they are stopping non-economic work does not provide justice to the millions of Americas [sic] whose lives are impacted by these dangerous and discriminatory laws courtesy of ALEC and its corporate backers.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, April 17, 2012
“Bad Idea Legislation”: When Fools Try To legislate, Women, Science, And Dwarves Are Among The Targets
March turned to April a couple days ago, and with it came a raft of April Fools’ jokes. (It also elicited a new round of sighs from Republicans who had hoped to find out that their presidential field was really an elaborate reality TV punking.)
In the spirit of the season, I’m devoting this column to April’s Fools and fools. Guess which of these are bills actually introduced in state legislatures around the country, and which are gags of my own creation (answers at bottom).
Ladies first. It should come as no surprise that many of the weirdest, most outrageous bills that have popped up around the country in recent months focus on women. Take a recent Wisconsin Senate bill that would have required the state’s Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to “emphasize” single parenthood “as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.” The bill, which happily died this month, had two sponsors. One, state Sen. Glenn Grothman, thinks liberals want children to be born out of wedlock “because they are more likely to be dependent on the government.” The bill’s other sponsor, a state representative named Don Pridemore, has said that spouses in abusive relationships should try to stay in them rather than divorce.
He might be comfortable with a prize of a bill introduced this year in the New Hampshire state House that would have required police to obtain a warrant before making an arrest in a domestic violence case unless they had seen the abuse taking place firsthand. Happily, that bill also met its deserved fate when the legislature killed it as “inexpedient to legislate.”
No discussion of legislative assaults upon women would be complete without touching on contraception. A law shot down just this week in the Arizona state Senate would have allowed any employer (not just religiously affiliated ones) to refuse to provide contraception coverage on moral grounds … unless a woman produced a note from her doctor certifying that she needed it for medical reasons (rather than the presumed moral turpitude).
“Feticide.” I’ll skip over conservatives’ insistence that women must undergo (sometimes invasive) ultrasounds before getting the perfectly legal medical procedure known as abortion. (The same people who object to warnings on cigarette packs because everyone knows the hazards of smoking simultaneously believe that a woman who wants an abortion must not realize how pregnancy works.) That’s not the only abortion-related fight going on. A proposed Iowa law would classify abortion as “feticide,” bringing life in prison without parole for the doctor.
For sheer weirdness, though, nothing beats Oklahoma. State Sen. Ralph Shortey wants to ban “food or any product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses.” Even he admitted, “I don’t know if it is happening in Oklahoma.” No word on whether he’s going to follow on with a bill banning Soylent Green. Oklahoma also brought what has been called the “every sperm is sacred” bill, for the old Monty Python sketch, which, in the spirit of granting personhood at the moment of conception, would deem any waste of sperm (as in, for example, masturbation) “an action against an unborn child.” This month a local Delaware council approved a similar resolution.
Don’t say gay. Tennessee has become a culture wars battleground. One bill in the Volunteer State’s legislature would ban teachers from talking about homosexuality in elementary and middle school sex ed classes (hence its nickname: the “don’t say gay” bill). Homosexuality “happens in nature, but so does bestiality,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stacey Campfield. “That does not make it right or something we should be teaching in school.” Campfield and his allies agreed to let the bill stall when they realized that Tennessee currently has no sex ed in elementary and middle school.
The Tennessee state Senate this month passed a bill encouraging teachers to give both sides of “controversial” topics such as evolution and global warming. Maybe they hope to set up a modern-day Scopes monkey trial.
The never-ending crazy. The Tennessee House also voted overwhelmingly this month to condemn a two-decade-old nonbinding United Nations sustainable development plan as a “destructive and insidious” communist plot. Not to be outdone, Wyoming’s legislature debated (and killed) legislation that called for the state to start making plans for a catastrophe that incapacitated the federal government—including the possibility of setting up an “alternative currency” to the U.S. dollar. Another provision, which would have looked into setting up a draft and acquiring an aircraft carrier, was added with the intent of sinking the bill. It succeeded.
Not all state lawmakers look abroad with fear. Three New Hampshire representatives proposed a bill (since killed) requiring that all Granite State legislation include a quotation from the Magna Carta “which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived.”
Of course, this would have run afoul of the movement against sharia, or Islamic law. Legislators in 22 states have introduced bills banning courts from applying foreign or sharia laws, a mystifying solution in search of a nonexistent problem.
And did I mention the Florida lawmaker who wants to repeal the state’s ban on dwarf-tossing?
You can’t make this stuff up—literally. If you guessed that all of these examples are real, you get full credit. If you guessed the “every sperm is sacred” bills were too absurd to be true, you get half credit: Their sponsors proffered them with legislative tongues planted firmly in cheeks.
By: Robert Schlesinger, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, April 7, 2012
The past 15 months have seen a remarkable assault by the GOP on federal labor rights.
Republicans have introduced numerous bills designed to undermine the National Labor Relations Act, all with wonderfully deceptive names suggesting they would strengthen the rights of ordinary workers: Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act, Employee Rights Act, Jobs Protection Act, Employee Workplace Freedom Act, Secret Ballot Protection Act, National Right to Work Act, Truth in Employment Act, National Labor Relations Reorganization Act, and others.
Republicans on the federal level have also attempted to defund and abolish the National Labor Relations Board, subjected its Democratic members to repeated subpoenas and requests for information, protested President Obama’s recess appointments to the board, joined lawsuits by corporate and anti-union organizations and threatened Congressional Review Acts – which could happen within weeks – to block the implementation of new board rules streamlining union certification elections and requiring notice posting on federal labor rights.
Rarely, if ever, has the board, and the rights it enforces, been subjected to such relentless attacks. And the attacks continue. While impressive, this assault on federal labor rights pales in comparison to what has been happening – occasionally in full view, but mostly with little notice – at the state level. Almost everyone knows about the 2011 legislation stripping public sector workers of collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Ohio, and Indiana’s 2012 “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation, which outlaws union security agreements.
However, the sheer number of anti-union bills supported by GOP-controlled legislatures demonstrates the breadth and depth of the party’s anti-unionism. So what is happening in the states?
In addition to Indiana, at least 18 other states have considered RTW measures. South Carolina and Tennessee passed bills strengthening RTW legislation that has been on the books for six decades, while another RTW state, Virginia, attempted to write RTW into its constitution. And last week, the New Hampshire House passed a RTW bill identical to one vetoed last year by the state’s Democratic governor. Other states that may act on RTW this year — sometimes over the wishes of the GOP establishment — through legislation or ballot initiatives include Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.
In addition to high-profile bills in Wisconsin and Ohio, at least 13 other states have considered legislation that would eliminate or restrict public sector collective bargaining. New Jersey eliminated public sector bargaining over health benefits, Oklahoma outlawed collective bargaining for municipal employees, and Tennessee replaced bargaining for public school teachers with “collaborative conferencing.” And at least 14 states have considered legislation that would ban public employers from deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks, thereby making it difficult for unions to finance their basic activities. Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a measure prohibiting public schools from deducting union dues from the paychecks of teachers and other employees.
Many Republican legislatures have promoted bills that, while not directly attacking labor rights, are clearly intended to weaken unions, including unions in the building trades and public schools. 14 states have introduced legislation restricting Project Labor Agreements, and 11 have bills attacking prevailing wage laws, both of which protect building trades standards.
At least 28 states have considered charter school and voucher bills that would weaken public school unions, and others have bills privatizing most schools services, along with bills privatizing transportation, water supply, port authorities, airport security, liquor distribution, prisons and prison medical services, Medicaid delivery, state park vendors, kindergarten development and evaluation, and every municipal service imaginable.
At least 10 states have introduced so-called “paycheck protection” measures, which are designed to place strict limits on the use of union dues money for political purposes, while placing few, if any, restrictions on corporate political spending. Alabama, Arizona and North Carolina passed paycheck measures in 2011 – though all three bills have been challenged in the courts – while California and New Jersey have upcoming paycheck ballot initiatives.
Deception dominates in the messaging on state bills. California’s paycheck ballot initiative is ludicrously misnamed “Stop Special Interest Money Now.” Backers of the bill, the ultra-conservative Lincoln Club of Orange County, co-produced “Hillary: The Movie,” which led to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The Lincoln Club welcomed Citizens United as a “victory for free speech,” but now claims that its measure is a balanced effort to remove all special interest money from state elections, to the extent allowed by federal law. In reality, it would undermine the ability of unions to engage in core political activities but have almost no impact on corporate political spending.
This type of obfuscation is central to Republicans’ anti-union strategy. If the party were unable to hide behind deceptive messaging, it would be exposed as a front for the American Legislative Exchange Council and other extreme organizations.
And finally: not one new job has been created by this tsunami of anti-union legislation.
The shooting of teen Trayvon Martin in Florida last week has sparked a national debate over “stand your ground” laws.
But in many states, fights over the controversial legislation have been going on for years without garnering much attention from anyone other than prosecutors and gun-rights activists.
While George Zimmerman admits to shooting Martin, he says he acted in self defense and has not yet been arrested. Under a 2005 Florida law, a citizen who uses deadly force is immune from prosecution when “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”
Backed by the National Rifle Association, first in Florida and then around the country, state legislators have pushed for expanding the right to use deadly force. Twenty-one states now have laws giving citizens wide latitude to use deadly force without first attempting to retreat.
Here are some states where “Stand Your Ground” was recently passed or is currently up for debate.
* A bill passed by the legislature in Minnesota was just vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D).
* In Pennsylvania, former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) vetoed a “stand your ground” bill; it was signed last year by Gov. Tom Corbett (R).
* Democratic lawmakers staged a walk-out in Iowa recently to avoid a vote on the legislation. The legislation will probably be blocked on procedural grounds this year, but state Rep. Matt Windschitl (R) plans to reintroduce it next year.
“I anticipate that there are some people who are going to try use this unforunate incident as an excuse not to expand Iowans’ right to self -defense,” Windschitl said, but argued that this one case had to be balanced against the lives saved by laws like the one in Florida.
* In New Hampshire last fall, Republicans in the state legislature overrode a veto from Gov. John Lynch (D) in order to pass a “Stand Your Ground” bill.
“I think if we end up with more moderate Republicans and certainly more Democrats” after the 2012 elections, “it could be on the table again,” said state Rep. Christopher Serlin (D).
* In Alaska, legislation has passed the House and is currently being considered by the state Senate.
Not every “Stand Your Ground” law came from a purely Republican-controlled state government, however.
Oklahoma’s Democratic governor signed one in 2006, as part of the first wave of “Stand Your Ground” success. So did Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano, when she was the Democratic governor of Arizona. In Alabama, a bill identical to Florida’s was first introduced by a Democrat.
Overall, however, there is a partisan divide — particularly in the past two years as advocates have attempted to bring the legislation to less-conservative states — with Republicans supporting the bills and Democrats opposing them.
In states where the policy has yet to become law, supporters will likely find new resistance. In states where it has recently become law, its supporters could face a backlash.
Supporters of “Stand Your Ground” argue that it doesn’t apply in this case and does not protect killers who did not act in true self-defense. (Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have also suggested the law does not apply.) Opponents say that the law encourages vigilante justice by creating ambiguity.
“We’ve never thought by itself that the law is the main issue,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “What we think is the main issue is the mentality that that law provides.”
By: Rachel Weiner, The Washington Post, March 23,2012
Let’s take a look at sex and state legislatures.
Never a good combo. Lawmakers venture into murky waters when they attempt to deal with the mysteries of human reproduction. The results are generally short of scientific. Once, when I was covering the Connecticut House of Representatives, a bill introduced at the behest of professional musicians, “An Act Concerning Rhythm Machines,” was referred to the Public Health Committee under the assumption that it was about birth control.
That was a long time ago, but a definite high note. Normally when these matters come up in a state capitol, the result is not chuckles.
New Hampshire, for instance, seems to have developed a thing for linking sex and malignant disease. This week, the State House passed a bill that required that women who want to terminate a pregnancy be informed that abortions were linked to “an increased risk of breast cancer.”
As Terie Norelli, the minority leader, put it, the Legislature is attempting to make it a felony for a doctor “to not give a patient inaccurate information.”
And there’s more. One of the sponsors, Representative Jeanine Notter, recently asked a colleague whether he would be interested, “as a man,” to know that there was a study “that links the pill to prostate cancer.”
This was at a hearing on a bill to give employers a religious exemption from covering contraception in health care plans. The article Notter appeared to be referring to simply found that nations with high use of birth control pills among women also tended to have high rates of prostate cancer among men. Nobody claimed that this meant there was scientific evidence of a connection. You could also possibly discover that nations with the lowest per capita number of ferrets have a higher rate of prostate cancer.
Bringing the prostate into the fight was definitely a new wrinkle. But it’s getting very popular to try to legislate an abortion-breast cancer link. I suspect this is at least in part because politicians in some states are being forced to stretch to find new ways to torture women who want to end an unwanted pregnancy. It’s sort of like gun control — once your state already has guaranteed the right to wear concealed weapons into bars and churches, you’re going to have to start getting really creative to reaffirm a commitment to the Second Amendment.
Last year, South Dakota — which has a grand total of one abortion provider — instituted a 72-hour waiting period, plus a requirement that the woman undergo a lecture at one of the state’s anti-abortion pregnancy counseling centers.
This law is tied up by litigation. While they’re waiting, the legislators have improved upon their work, requiring the doctor to ask his patient — who may have already traveled for hours, waited for three days and gone through the counseling center harangue — questions including what her religious background is and how she thinks her family might react to the decision to end the pregnancy.
“South Dakota has taken the I.R.S. audit model and applied it to women’s reproduction,” said Ted Miller of Naral Pro-Choice America.
But about this cancer business.
“Now we’re seeing why legislatures getting into the practice of medicine is dangerous,” said Barbara Bollier, a Republican state representative in Kansas, where a bill requiring doctors to warn abortion patients about the breast cancer connection is pending.
Bollier is a retired anesthesiologist, who also formerly taught bioethics. If you wanted to have a résumé guaranteed to drive you crazy in the Kansas State Legislature, she’s got it.
We had a very interesting discussion over the phone about good science — what makes a reliable study, and how an early suggestion of a possible connection between abortions and breast cancer was overtaken by larger, better studies that showed no evidence of a link whatsoever. All of this has been shared with the Kansas Legislature, to no effect whatsoever.
Bollier has her finger on the moral to all this. When faced with a choice between scientific evidence and their personal and political preferences, legislators are not going to go with the statistics. I have warm memories of the committee of the Texas House of Representatives that last year rejected a bill to require that public school sex education classes be “medically accurate.”
Let’s refrain from discussing how the people who are preparing to legislate medical science are often the very same ones who scream about government overreach when health experts propose taxing sugary beverages.
Just try to envision yourself in a doctor’s office for a consult. Then imagine you’re joined by a state legislator. How many of you think the situation has been improved? Can I see a show of hands?
By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 16, 2012