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By Ed Pilkington, Guardian UK 09 August 2013
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a secretive alliance of big businesses and largely Republican state legislators who co-operate to push a right-wing political agenda in the American hinterland, is continuing to wield outsized influence over gun laws across the US despite its promise in the wake of the Trayvon Martin furore to stop operating in this area.
As protesters gathered outside Alec’s 40th annual gathering of lawmakers and corporate interests in Chicago, a new watchdog report finds that stand-your-ground laws of the sort forwarded by the group and made infamous by the Martin killing are still proliferating around the country. Last year, Alec came under intense criticism that its model stand-your-ground law, first adopted in Florida in 2005 having been drafted by the National Rifle Association, had prevented the arrest of George Zimmerman, Martin’s shooter, and made his prosecution more difficult.
In the wake of the controversy, the group disbanded its “public safety and elections” taskforce that had been lobbying for stand-your-ground laws and for the spread of voter ID laws that restrict voter registration and make it harder for black, elderly and poor voters to cast their ballots. But the new report from the Center for Media and Democracy finds that the group’s hand can still be felt across the US with the ongoing creep of stand-your-ground and regressive electoral laws.
The report chronicles how no fewer than 62 stand-your-ground and voter ID laws have been introduced so far this year based to some degree on model bills framed by Alec. That includes 10 stand-your-ground bills, passed in two states and 52 legislative moves to restrict voter access adopted by five states.
“Florida’s ‘shoot-first’ law – an Alec model bill – shielded George Zimmerman from arrest for six weeks and ensured law enforcement failed to conduct a proper investigation,” said Rashad Robinson of ColorOfChange in a press conference to launch the new report. “Alec now says they don’t work on shoot-first laws or voter ID laws, but these laws continue to exist around the country, putting black folks in harm’s way, and Alec are doing nothing to clean up the mess.”
The annual gathering in Chicago of Alec members – both state-level politicians and business executives – is the 40th such meeting. Founded in 1973, the group remained largely under the radar until two years ago when a whistleblower disclosed 800 of its model bills.
Chris Taylor, a state representative in Wisconsin, has been attending the Chicago gathering having paid the $575 registration fee out of her own pocket. She said there remained a “shroud of secrecy” around the event, with very little media present and few details put out about the schedule before it started on Wednesday.
Taylor said that neither gun nor electoral laws had been on the formal agenda so far, but the NRA was well represented on the exhibition floor as were groups touting restrictive voting legislation. “Legislators are treated like the foot soldiers of special interests and are instructed to go out and enact their marching orders,” Taylor said.
The Center for Media and Democracy report identifies a total of 466 Alec bills that have been introduced by state legislatures so far this year, spanning all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. Much of the effort has gone into bills rolling back workers’ rights including controversial “right to work” legislation introduced in 15 states and other attempts to block minimum wage structures.
Bills impacting state education have also been high on the agenda, with 139 Alec bills introduced and 31 enacted this year. The legislation focused on redirecting taxpayer money from public schools to for-profit private schools.
Legislation making it easier for energy companies to forward polluting activities such as fossil fuel consumption and fracking were identified in 77 Alec bills so far this year.