ALEC state politicians, Koch machine groups, and corporate captains will once again huddle together to produce right-wing cookie cutter “model bills” to take back to their respective state houses when the corporate pay-to-play group holds its States & Nation Policy Summit this week in Nashville, Tennessee. The meeting begins today and runs through Friday at the 4-star Omni Nashville hotel, located next door to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Counsel) claims that it will have a record 1,000 people at the summit, which will feature keynote speeches from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, as well as a host of supply-side economists and economic analysts.
But the real action of the conference will take place behind closed doors, where lobbyists and elected officials on ALEC’s issue task forces will sit side by side and vote on a veritable wish list of corporate causes.
Pushing Pruitt to Abandon EPA Endangerment Findings
One of the most extreme and divisive proposals on ALEC’s agenda is a proposed resolution calling on EPA Administrator and ALEC alumnus Scott Pruitt to review, and ultimately repeal, the EPA’s 2009 finding that greenhouse gases are endangering the planet and public health.
That finding provides the underpinning for the EPA’s climate regulations, so killing it would unravel a host of regulations the fossil fuel industry hates.
The measure is backed by the Heartland Institute and other industry-funded State Policy Network (SPN) groups, but recently drew the opposition of ExxonMobil. Despite Exxon pumping $1.7 million into ALEC in years past to cast doubt on climate science—the focus of an IRS whistleblower complaint filed by Common Cause and CMD last year—the oil giant says it objects to the resolution’s language.
Pruitt’s position is up in the air. The Koch-fueled Right has been fuming at Scott Pruitt for failing to take action on the endangerment finding earlier this year, and there are signs that he is bending to the pressure. In June, Pruitt told Breitbart that he was considering a sweeping government review to question climate science. And Pruitt continues to participate in conference calls with ALEC.
Upon his appointment to the EPA, ALEC released a statement lauding Pruitt and claiming that Trump had “found just the right person to bring fresh leadership and much-needed reform to an agency currently out of control. Anyone who values striking a balance between sensible environmental regulations and the rule of law should delight in Pruitt’s appointment.”
The proposed resolution will likely deepen an internal schism in ALEC between dirty-energy corporations, such as Koch Industries, Devon Energy, and Peabody Coal, and more forward-looking corporate backers. ALEC has lost members like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, SAP America, and even Royal Dutch Shell, due to its climate denial. More than 100 corporations have dumped ALEC in recent years over its extreme positions.
The 2009 EPA endangerment findings took into account the public health implications of a warming climate caused by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which include more deaths from heat-related illnesses, more serious (and potentially fatal) respiratory illnesses, and more people at risk from catastrophic flooding.
ALEC-Koch Cabal Wants to Rewrite the Constitution
Attendees at the ALEC meeting in Nashville will have multiple opportunities to hear about the right-wing’s drive for a constitutional convention to rewrite the U.S. Constitution. CMD reported in July about infighting between ALEC factions over how to proceed with a convention. ALEC’s internal documents indicate that some legal experts reject the claim by the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force that state resolutions with different wording add up to a count of 27 states toward the 34 needed to convene a convention.
ALEC will host a workshop on December 7 entitled “How States Could Preserve America’s Future with a Balanced Budget Amendment.” Its description states, “Learn how a convention of the states could safely and effectively use the Constitution’s amendment process (Article V) to create a sustainable economic future and join the movement to encourage seven final states to pass a resolution to call for an Article V BBA Convention.”
In claiming that only seven state applications are needed, ALEC is banking on none of the decades-old applications, or applications with significantly different language, will be thrown out by the courts.
ALEC will also ask attendees in Nashville to consider a resolution from the Convention of States, which is proposing a sweeping rewrite of the Constitution that would allow states to opt out of Supreme Court rulings and federal laws they don’t like. The group’s Draft Resolution Selecting and Instructing Commissioners to a Convention for Proposing Amendments would give state legislatures—controlled by Republicans in 32 states—the unilateral power to choose delegates for a convention and bind those delegates to the legislature’s instructions. For anyone entertaining the notion that a Constitutional Convention would be an exercise in popular democracy, this is not your crowd.
ALEC Promotes Driverless Vehicles
ALEC’s Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force will consider two corporate-backed bills this week.
The Model State Automated Vehicle (AV) Policy would legalize self-driving vehicles and preempt the regulation of these vehicles at the local level. While the model bill touts that self-driving vehicles “save lives” and “expand human mobility,” critics describe them as a job killer. A 2017 Goldman Sachs Economics Research Report concluded that the U.S. could lose 25,000 jobs a month when they saturate the market.
It is not clear who is backing the proposed bill, as many of the major companies working on self-driving vehicles, including Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Tesla, Google, Microsoft, and Apple, are not currently members of ALEC as far as CMD can tell.
The Task Force will also discuss an Act to Establish a Cap on Government Red Tape. The bill represents a corporate attack on important consumer, environmental, and health regulations by establishing an arbitrary limit on the number of regulatory requirements, regardless of their importance, and requiring that two existing regulations be removed for every new regulation enacted.
This draft legislation mirrors the executive order Trump signed in January to eliminate business regulations in his agencies. Congressmen Michael McCaul (TX-10), Phil Roe MD (TN-1), Rick Allen (GA-12), Dave Brat (VA-07), and Louie Gohmert (TX-01) introduced the One In, One Out Act earlier in January with a similar purpose of gutting regulations on businesses.
Public Citizen, a consumer rights group founded by Ralph Nader, is fighting Trump’s order. “If implemented, the order would result in lasting damage to our government’s ability to save lives, protect our environment, police Wall Street, keep consumers safe and fight discrimination,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said.
More ALEC Tricks to Privatize Public Schools
ALEC shows again that it thinks of itself as an expert on failing schools with the consideration of the School Turnaround and Leadership Development Act this week. Utah Senate President and future ALEC President, Wayne Niederhauser was the chief sponsor of an identical bill in Utah that was passed and was signed into law in 2015. Niederhauser is likely the sponsor of this one as well.
The model legislation requires the state board of education to determine which schools are “low performing” and to force school districts to work with “independent school turnaround experts” to improve the school. The state board of education will also be required under this law to “impose certain consequences” on schools that fail to improve to the State Board’s liking.
The model bill is anti-democratic in nature, as it removes the power parents and communities have over their schools if the state finds that they are among the “lowest performing 3% of schools statewide.”
Consequences for schools who do not improve in three years include “contract management,” “conversion to a charter school,” and state takeover.
This model bill is the latest of many that have pushed for ALEC’s goal of privatizing education. It is unclear if this will be as popular as ALEC’s 2010 “Parent Trigger Act”, which was introduced in various versions in at least 17 states. That bill gave parents more power than this one does, but it included a similar option to convert “failing schools” to charter schools.
ALEC’s education bills track more than 30 years of efforts to privatize public education through an ever-expanding network of school vouchers, charter schools, and online schools.
ALEC Urges Trump to Stick with Free Trade
ALEC continues to be a forceful booster of free trade agreements. Two model resolutions that will be discussed at the Nashville meeting address team Trump’s negotiations on Korean trade and NAFTA.
A Draft Resolution Urging the Presidential Administration and Congress to Support Continued U.S. Participation in the U.S.–Korea Free Trade Agreement urges the Trump administration to reject the idea of withdrawal and to remain in. This is despite the fact that U.S. citizens were promised a great deal and got instead a larger trade deficit with South Korea, $27.6 billion in 2016, and a net U.S. job loss of 80,000.
ALEC also wants to ensure greater protections for its pharmaceutical company members, including Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and Takeda with its introduction of a Draft Resolution Urging the Presidential Administration and Congress to Support Stronger Intellectual Property Protections in an Updated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Big Pharma has been very active in international trade agreements for decades, imposing monopoly patent protections on their products on underdeveloped countries around the world. This blocks access to essential medicines for poor nations by making it difficult to produce generics at lower prices.
ALEC Abandons the Pensioners
ALEC will also target state and local pension plans that are in financial trouble with its Resolution Opposing Federal Bailouts of State and Local Pension Plans. The resolution asks Congress to write legislation to prohibit the Treasury and Federal Reserve from providing financial assistance to States or localities with insolvent pension plans.
This latest move can be seen in the context of ALEC’s decades-long struggle to dramatically change pension rights for public employees from defined benefits to defined contributions, transfer the management of pension funds to private fee generating companies, and cripple the ability of state pension boards to bring lawsuits and hold corporate criminals accountable.
Revisiting the REINS Act and the 17th Amendment
This week, ALEC will reconsider two draft resolutions that were discussed in previous meetings.
The first, a Draft Resolution Calling on Congress to Pass the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, is aimed at U.S. Senators, as the Koch-backed legislation (H.R. 26) passed the U.S. House in January. The REINS Act would limit regulations and the costs associated with them at the expense of public safety, public health, and the environment.
If the REINS Act passes the Senate and Trump signs it into law, it will strip the executive branch of the power to issue rules without congressional approval if they have an annual effect of $100 million or more.”
The ALEC faithful are also revisiting another resolution aimed at Congress introduced over the summer, a Draft Resolution Recommending Constitutional Amendment Restoring Election of U.S. Senators to the Legislatures of the Sovereign States.
This anti-democratic resolution asks Congress to overturn the 17th Amendment, thereby stripping voters of their right to elect U.S. Senators and handing that power over to state legislatures.
“One only needs to examine the electoral map to understand why ALEC is pushing for a repeal of the 17th Amendment now. With the majority of states under GOP control, Republicans could snatch some 17 U.S. Senate seats from Democrats if the state legislatures are given the right to pick Senators,” CMD wrote back in July, before ALEC first introduced this resolution at its Annual Meeting.
America’s Heartland Fights Back Against ALEC
In the meantime, citizens in America’s heartland are fighting the ALEC agenda.
In Arizona, the Save Our Schools coalition of parents and public school advocates gathered enough signatures in September to give voters the opportunity to decide in November 2018 whether or not to allow the state to dramatically expand the state’s school-voucher program.
Voters in Missouri will also get a chance to decide in November 2018 whether the state’s new union-crushing “right-to-work” bill will become law, after union members and citizens gathered more than triple the required number of signatures to put a repeal measure on the ballot.
Stay tuned to Exposed by CMD for more on the 2017 ALEC States & Nation Policy Summit following the meeting.
Mary Bottari and Arn Pearson contributed to this article.