By Rebekah Wilce This article was first published on PR Watch.
ALEC holds its 41st annual meeting in Dallas, Texas starting on Wednesday, July 30, 2014. At this largest of its three annual national conferences, state legislators from across the country will meet with corporate and special interest lobbyists behind closed doors to vote on “model” legislation to change state laws. Numerous agenda items are reviewed below.
ALEC’s 40th annual meeting in Chicago was met by over a thousand protesters. Local groups in Texas held an educational event on Saturday, July 26, and are planning protest activities for Wednesday, July 30.
This year, ALEC has a new executive director, Lisa Britton Nelson, who is a former lobbyist for Visa and AOL Time Warner — both of which have had ties to ALEC — and also worked with Newt Gingrich and GOPAC. Several new companies also recently joined its “Private Enterprise Advisory Council”: NetChoice, the National Federation of Independent Business, and K12 Inc.
Speakers at ALEC’s annual meeting will include Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore, and Newt Gingrich. “Policy workshops” include instructions on “How to Think and Talk About Climate and Energy Issues,” “Energy Exports: A Free Market Economic Stimulus to Create Jobs and Grow the Economy,” “EPA’s Proposed Carbon Emissions Rulemaking — What Does it Mean to States?” and more of the increasingly frequent attempts to spin efforts to limit the anti-democratic effects of unlimited political spending by billionaires and corporations as “Silencing Opposing Views: Attacks on Free Speech and Private Charitable Giving.”
ALEC’s “Justice Performance Project,” which appears to have taken on many of the roles of the “Public Safety and Elections Task Force” that ALEC shuttered in the wake of the controversy following the death of Trayvon Martin, will discuss “efficiently engaging the public-private partnership with the surety bail industry.” In other words, how to enrich bounty hunters.
Also at this year’s meeting, ALEC’s task forces will consider bills to make it virtually impossible to enroll in Medicaid, expand charter schools to further bankrupt traditional public schools, expand exports of “natural gas” from fracking, and undermine the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Air and Clean Water Act regulations.
Draft bills to be voted on by lobbyists alongside state legislators at the coming annual meeting include:
Changing Laws Providing for Public Education
- The “Affordable Baccalaureate Degree Act” would enrich companies invested in online college degree programs and materials — like Pearson (whose subsidiary Connections Education has been a prominent member of ALEC’s Education Task Force), which sells the LearningStudio platform used by many universities like Arizona State University’s popular and much-hyped online degree program. It would “require all pubic [sic] four-year universities to offer bachelor’s degrees costing no more than $10,000, total, for four years of tuition, fees, and books. The Act would require that ten percent of all public, four-year university degrees awarded reach this price-point within four years of passage of this act.” The bill instructs universities to focus on online and blended learning “to achieve this price-point.”
- The “Public Charter Schools Act” would expand on ALEC’s pre-existing “Next Generation Charter Schools Act” and enrich ALEC members like K12, Inc., the nation’s largest provider of online charter schools or cyber schools. It would allow privately-operated charter schools to continue taking public funds, but without public accountability. The bill would give charter schools carte blanche to operate without being “subject to the state’s education statutes or any state or local rule, regulation, policy, or procedure relating to non-charter public schools within an applicable local school district…”
- The related “Public Charter Schools Funding Act” restates charters’ autonomy from the rule of law and democratically-elected school boards while still giving each charter school “one hundred percent” of the state and federal education funding “calculated pursuant to the state’s funding formula for school districts.”
Changing Laws Protecting the Environment
- ALEC will consider a resolution urging the EPA to “defer adopting any redefinition of the waters of the U.S. rule.” The EPA has proposed a rule to clarify protection for streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act in order to reduce confusion, save businesses time and money, and help states protect their waters. ALEC’s draft bill suggests that this redefinition “could significantly increase the cost and regulatory requirements for state and local governments and ultimate the costs for state and local residents and businesses.” According to the EPA, however, the proposal doesn’t expand protection to any waters that haven’t historically been covered under the Clean Water Act.
- Not just ALEC’s “Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force” will be talking about the regulation of bodies of water, however. Its “Federal Relations (Federalism) Working Group” will consider a “Draft State Constitutional ‘Water is Life Amendment’” that would encourage the State to resist federal enforcement of federal regulations seeking to protect state waters. It would also make the proposed constitutional change “enforceable in the courts of this State by any taxpaying resident without fee, expense or cost-shifting to the State,” although what entity would bear the cost is unclear.
- ALEC will also consider a resolution to endorse “expanded markets for LNG [liquefied natural gas] exports from the United States” and pushing for “regulatory and legislative policies designed to streamline and simplify the permitting process.” The policy completely ignores the drastic environmental impacts of the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process often used to extract the gas.
Changing Laws Providing Healthcare
- The “Medicaid Anti-Crowd-Out Act” is a particularly egregious bill that would benefit private health insurance companies by prohibiting a state “from causing or allowing Medicaid enrollment or Medicaid HMO enrollment in any situation where individuals and/or dependents have availability of commercial healthcare insurance or are already enrolled in commercial healthcare insurance” (emphasis added). Jon Peacock, Research Director of Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said of the draft bill, “It would make anyone with an offer of employer insurance ineligible for Medicaid, regardless of how poor they are and how narrow or expensive the insurance plan is. And the proposal is so poorly drafted that it would seem to make everyone ineligible for Medicaid — because everyone has ‘availability of commercial healthcare insurance.’ This might be the most poorly drafted, overly broad piece of legislation I’ve ever seen.”
- The “Requiring Legislative Approval for Medicaid Expansion Act” would keep state governors from being able to make the decision of whether or not to accept Medicaid expansion, instead requiring the state legislature to approve any expansion. This has been a controversial issue in many states since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Changing Laws Protecting the Insured
- The “Property Insurance Claims Act,” on which both the Civil Justice and Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Forces will vote, tilts the playing field in favor of property insurance companies. It would benefit those companies that are represented by the ALEC member Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCIAA). The bill would restrict the time frame for the insured to bring a claim, require the insured to submit to mandatory appraisal, and cut back existing law protecting property owners in many states. PCIAA’s vice president of state government relations, Joe Woods, is the private sector co-chair of the Financial Services Subcommittee of the Commerce task force, which will vote on the bill first.
Changing Criminal Justice Laws
- The “Resolution in Support of Post-Release Supervision of Offenders” expands parole, or post-release supervision, and would benefit ALEC member the American Bail Coalition, the trade group for the for-profit bail industry. ALEC already pushes bills to put for-profit bail bondsmen in the position of supervising individuals on parole or post-conviction release through its “Conditional Post-Conviction Release Act.” (In fact, ALEC re-approved this bill in December 2013, after the dissolution of its “Public Safety and Elections Task Force” in 2012.) This new resolution would call for more inmates to be released with supervision, rather than on their own recognizance, thus expanding the market for private bounty hunters in states where ALEC’s earlier bill has already become law. This resolution will be discussed by ALEC’s “Justice Performance Project,” yet another indication that it is taking on the roles of the shuttered “Public Safety and Elections Task Force.”