April 2, 2012
The focus on the Trayvon Martin killing by George Zimmerman has led to a closer look at Florida’s “stand your ground” law that was passed in 2005. Since similar laws have been passed in various states, the role of the ultra-conservative, non-profit organization, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a pro-business lobby group with financial sponsorship by large corporations and individual membership by hundreds of elected officials at all levels, is being scrutinized closer as a probable source of the plethora of “copy cat” laws of various types of legislation passed or pending in different state legislatures. Although this has actually been known for quite some time, more recent investigations are again finding that the organization is spreading model legislation through template documents, in many cases with only slight variations in verbiage, if any at all, that is often included in passed legislation.
ALEC claims that it didn’t author Florida’s stand your ground law and posted a statement on its web site last week stating that the opposite occurred: the Florida law was actually the basis for ALEC’s own model legislation. However, last November, Rachel Burgin (R), a member of the Florida state House of Representatives and of ALEC, copied a document of model legislation that was created by ALEC and accessed online (members only) for submission as new legislation. To her chagrin, she forgot to delete the ALEC mission statement (a boilerplate component of documents originating from the organization) when the bill was introduced in the Florida House and posted on a website. The mistake didn’t go unnoticed. The posted bill was subsequently taken down the next day, the bill withdrawn and another version re-introduced with a different tracking number and re-posted within 24 hours, so as to obscure her original gaffe which became widely known about two months ago.
Although nothing illegal was involved, it demonstrated the degree of corporate influence directly exerted upon our lives through our elected representatives. Whether it be the plethora of states passing changes in voter identification requirements since 2010; or the handful of states that passed or have legislation pending affecting procedural steps women must be subjected to if seeking abortions; to those with anti-union legislation introduced; to severely limiting governmental ability to regulate business for public safety and protection at the federal level, model legislation of all types in every sphere of life, are being championed and pushed forward by a tiny fraction of the population wielding great power from behind the scenes. They claim to be ardent believers in federalism, i.e. proponents of states’ rights and local rule, while promoting model, template legislation nation-wide in blanket or quilt-like fashion, state-by-state, that ultimately benefits themselves the most.
In New Jersey on Sunday, the state-wide newspaper published three companion articles by an investigative reporter, highlighted by a huge front page color splash and spoof, that combined for an extensive probe of ALEC’s influence on state laws and the fact that some of Governor Chris Christie’s most significant bills happen to match their model legislation, particularly his recommendations on public school reform. A Christie administration spokesman denied that they came from ALEC, explaining that it was just coincidental with so much model legislation utilizing similar wording out there. The primary article also referenced Rachel Burgin’s web site posting mistake in Florida, along with the fact that the Trayvon Martin killing spurred greater interest in examining the role of ALEC in influencing state and federal legislation.
There will undoubtedly be more probing and reporting by other media sources to augment that which has already been done and documented for years online and through film and video. Undoubtedly it will become a divisive pro and con issue that finds its way into election races at all levels in the coming months and effects weighed, perhaps in a similar light as the Citizens United ruling, which would be quite apropos.
For additional information about ALEC, please read:
For additional reference regarding Florida Rep. Rachel Burgin, see: http://kaystreet.wordpress.com/2012/02/0
Additional sources, resources and references: MSNBC, The Star-Ledger, www.alec.org.