Ironies abound in the 2016 agenda for the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which brings together corporate lobbyists and state legislators at luxury hotels to vote side-by-side on “model bills” that then pop up in states across the country.This spring’s Task Force Summit, to be held in the glittering Omni William Penn hotel on May 6 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, features a discussion on “Taxpayer Funded Lobbying Disclosure.”ALEC is not worried about the corporate lobbyists stacking its board and committees, or the taxpayer money being shelled out so some politicians can afford the swank Omni, or direct government subsidies to ALEC (like Tennessee’s $100,000 grant approved recently to underwrite a future ALEC conference in Nashville). No, ALEC is worried about city and county governments that join statewide associations to lobby state government for funds to provide services to everyday people. Stomping out this type of public interest “lobbying” is a big agenda item of the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity and part and parcel of ALEC’s agenda to preempt local democracy.
2016 Spring Task Force Summit agenda.
Handcuffing Government Through a Constitutional Amendment
Article V of the U.S. Constitution lays out two routes for adding an amendment: it can be proposed by Congress or by a Constitutional Convention convened by two-thirds of the states (34). Three-fourths of the states (38) have to ratify it.
Calling a convention or to add a devastating balanced budget amendment has been a top priority for ALEC and other extreme right groups in recent years.
Economists like Dean Baker warn that a balanced budget amendment would end Social Security and Medicare as we know it. It would radically limit the federal government’s ability to respond to economic downturns, deepening recession by preventing the government from using economic stimulus, and it would limit the government’s ability to help states deal with heavy weather disasters that are occurring with increasing frequency as the planet warms.
Last year, ALEC’s Task Force on Federalism and International Relations devoted most of its own session to the Article V strategy. This year the task force is offering aworkshop discussing “How a State Drafted and Ratified Balanced Budget Amendment.” The event features the Heartland Institute‘s David Guldenschuh, Admiral William Owens, who runs a telecom consulting firm, and national coordinator of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force Bill Fruth. A diversity of resolutions have passed at the state level, and the right-wing believes they are close to being able to call an convention.
Taking the “Compensation” Out of Workers’ Comp
Workers’ compensation programs will be under fire at the Civil Justice Task Force (Agenda PDF) and Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force (Agenda PDF) meetings. Both will review a new “ALEC Statement of Principles on Workers’ Compensation,” which makes it harder for workers to obtain compensation for injuries by pushing back on “activist” courts that favor workers, and limiting “unnecessary litigation” by requiring workers’ comp-related lawsuits be decided by a preponderance of evidence test.
The Civil Justice Task Force will also vote on “The Actual Harms Act,” a bill that aims to further limit consumer access to the courts by requiring that plaintiffs in many tort cases show they have suffered “real injuries and actual losses.” The bill is an attempt to label certain consumer suits and class actions as “no injury,” frivolous lawsuits, but the harms are abundant, as the consumer group Public Citizen details in a recent report. Actual injuries include “the need to repair or replace products to avoid serious injury, the economic injury of paying for a defective product that is not worth the premium price charged for it, the harm of receiving a worthless product that is not what it was held out to be, and the harm of paying extra for qualities a product is said to have, but does not in fact have.”
Preventing consumers from accessing justice when they have been injured or harmed by products such as pharmaceuticals and tobacco has long been a priority item for ALEC, which is underwritten by tobacco firms, pharmaceutical firms, and other corporations selling potentially dangerous consumer products.
Criminal Legal “Reform” and Blocking Consumer Access to the Courts
In recent years, the Kochs have been talking “criminal justice reform,” but CMD exposed their self-interest in a federal reform measure that makes it harder to prosecute corporate crimes by requiring prosecutors to prove intent, or “mens rea” in Latin. Up for review this year is ALEC’s old bill requiring the same mens reaprotections for corporate criminals.
Another blast-from-the-past model policy now up for five-year review is the “Law Enforcement Officer Safety Equipment Fund Act,” which allowed fees from traffic violations to fund police departments; similar policies came under heavy criticism in 2014 after it became clear that police in Ferguson, Missouri and many other citieswere relying on traffic fees — often resulting from racially biased traffic stops — to fund basic government services.
Keeping the for-profit bail bonds industry happy is still an ALEC priority. It is doubtful that session’s presentation on “Community Recognizance Indigent Bond” will follow the lead of states like Vermont and Colorado in limiting the use of pre-trail bail for low-risk defendants, which has a harsh impact on the poor; the presentation is being given by Nicholas Wachinski, former Executive Director of theAmerican Bail Coalition and now the CEO of Lexington National, a surety company“built by bondsmen for bondsmen.” In 2014, Wachinski testified against a New Jersey bill that would have expanded non-monetary pre-trial bail alternatives, and other recent ALEC model bills have aimed to expand parole supervision and the role of private bondsmen in it.
After decades of ALEC-backed “tough on crime” policies like “Truth in Sentencing” that have locked up generations of young people, ALEC appears to be looking for opportunities to soften its image. The Criminal Justice Reform Task Force (Agenda PDF) will debate a bill to encourage the federal government to eliminate a requirement that juveniles be added to state sex offender registries, and a bill to require state reporting on a wide range of demographics and costs related to solitary confinement in state prisons.
Privatizing Schools and Higher Ed Culture Wars
ALEC’s Education and Workforce Development Task Force (Agenda PDF) will hear presentations on charter school policies and funding mechanisms from pro-privatization groups like the Center for Education Reform and the Koch-fundedGoldwater Institute. The task force also has a plan to amend its Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act, which gives tax credits to corporations and wealthy individuals who fund scholarship programs for private and charter schools. The old bill had capped the credit at 50 percent of the filer’s tax liability, noting in a footnote that anything higher would lead to criticism that the program diverted money from public services to private schools. The new version would eliminate the cap, along with the footnote — an important change that reveals ALEC’s actual agenda here is not to help the underprivileged, but to subsidize wealthier parents already sending their kids to private school