Some of the most controversial bills introduced recently in the Florida Legislature were thought up by out-of-state corporate interests with financial motives, according to a report released Thursday by a two national watchdog groups and Progress Florida. The report says the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is a shadowy force exerting an uncanny amount of power over Florida’s lawmaking process.
ALEC advances so-called “model bills” on items like public education, immigration, labor issues, healthcare, gun rights and voter rights. Replicas of those business-friendly bills often end up in legislation sponsored by Florida lawmakers who are ALEC members, the report found.
Dozens of Florida lawmakers have ties to the group, which has been thrust into the spotlight this year as the main force behind the rapid spread of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law across the country.
“We realized that this was a massive corporate agenda that often puts the corporate agenda in front of public interest and in some cases, public safety,” said Doug Clopp, of Common Cause, a liberal group. “What ALEC represents is the poster child for a non-transparent [political process] that puts corporate profits ahead of the public interest.”
Common Cause, along with the Center for Media and Democracy, and Progress Florida, authored the 50-page report.
The report claims that ALEC and its corporate partners woo Republican lawmakers with free trips to its resort-like annual meetings, then give them model legislation to pitch in their statehouses. In many cases, the legislation provides benefits for private companies, including prison operators, gun sellers, charter school operators and retailers.
The group is holding its annual meeting this week in Salt Lake City.
The report claims the following bills surfaced in Florida in recent years with language identical to ALEC model bills:
- SB 1896 - Arizona-style immigration law. Failed.
- HB 691 – Law requiring employers to use E-Verify to screen for illegal immigrants. Failed.
- SJR 2 – Constitutional amendment allowing voters to opt out of federal healthcare mandate. Passed, will be on November ballot.
- HB 7019 – Law changing teacher evaluation requirements, linking evaluations to student achievement. Failed.
- SB 1620 – Bill expanding the use of virtual online charter schools. Companion bill passed.
- HB 691 – “Parent Trigger” act that would have allowed parents to replace a failing public school with a charter school. Failed.
- SB 2038 – Bill to privatize 27 prisons and correctional facilities in Florida. Failed in 21-19 Senate vote.
ALEC is also credited with pushing voter identification laws similar to the one Florida passed last year, making it more difficult for some people to access the polls.
Florida lawmakers don’t always vote in line with ALEC initiatives. Several of the ALEC bills mentioned in the report have failed, with ALEC members leading the charge against them.
The battle over a bill to privatize several prisons this year is an example.
That bill, SB 2038, failed in a 21-19 vote in the Senate. Several alleged ALEC members voted against the measure, which would have benefitted private prison operators. Sens. Larcenia Bullard, Mike Fasano, Dennis Jones and Ronda Storms, all listed in the report as recent ALEC members, spoke out against the privatization push.
Left-leaning groups have tried to put pressure on ALEC and its members, particularly since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in February. That shooting put the Stand Your Ground law—and ALEC’s role in spreading it—into a harsh national spotlight.
The groups behind the report have called on ALEC-associated lawmakers to cut ties with the organization, and for corporations that fund ALEC to end their association. Several corporations, including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, have decided to break ties with ALEC in recent months.
Some are also pushing for ALEC to lose its status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, alleging that its lobbying activities disqualify it from that distinction.
ALEC has denied the allegations, but, under pressure after the Trayvon Martin death, the group shut down its Public Safety and Elections task force in April. That committee was responsible for helping spread the Stand Your Ground law and voter identification laws.
For a copy of the report, click here.