ALEC Takes Aim at the Environment, Workers, Injury Awards
This is Part 1 of a two-part report on the American Legislative Exchange Council’s latest slate of model legislation, released after the group’s annual meeting earlier this month. Please see Part 1: ALEC Unveils Annual Agenda of Anti-Consumer Laws.
At the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Chicago earlier this month, corporate members of ALEC and state lawmakers collaborated outside the public view to write laws they will propose in states across the country.
The latest proposed legislation is consistent with the organizations past efforts to promote the interests of big business at the expense of consumers’ rights. Here are some some sample ALEC laws that may be coming to your state legislature:
Two of the proposed laws ALEC has drafted would take aim at workers’ rights. One would ban cities, local governments and counties from enacting laws that require employers to give workers paid time off for sick leave. Another model ALEC bill would change the minimum wage so that it is not linked to the consumer price index; in other words the minimum wage would not be raised to account for inflation.
With corporate members like Exxon, Peabody Energy and TransCanada Corp., one of the builders of the Keystone XL Pipeline, ALEC has put energy, fracking and climate change denial on its agenda.
An existing ALEC model law allows fracking companies to be exempt from disclosing the chemicals they use in the process if they claim the chemicals are “trade secrets.”
Last year, ALEC members in state legislatures pushed model bills that tried to repeal renewable energy standards. They failed in all 15 states where they were introduced.
“They failed quite frankly because clean energy is leading to job growth,” said Gabe Elsner, director of the Checks and Balances Project, a public interest watchdog group.
This year, a new ALEC model law tries to redefine “renewable energy” by allowing states to fulfill renewable energy standards by including landfill gases, other sources of electricity and out-of-state hydropower, according to Elsner.
The law, called the Market Powers Renewable Act, threatens to weaken local and regional incentives to develop renewable energy resources like wind farms and solar power.
“If this bill is passed, it will create the lowest common denominator by allowing out-of-state sources to fulfill in-state [renewable energy] requirements,” said Elsner.
“It’s cheaper to go out and buy credits in a hydropower plant out of state instead of building a local clean energy project such as a wind farm in-state,” Elsner said.
He is concerned that state lawmakers may be fooled into voting for the ALEC bills, which claim to be pro-clean energy.
“The model laws say they are in favor of clean energy, but are in fact a stealth attack on renewable energy,” he said.
Harder to Collect Damages for Injuries
ALEC has proposed a model bill that will set up compensation funds to pay workers exposed to asbestos. However, it would require injured workers to apply to each trust.
“When you talk to consumer advocates for victims, they say the real goal of the model bill is to delay lawsuits until people die of mesothelioma. In many cases, families don’t want to continue with the lawsuit [after the worker dies] and the damages are not as high,” said Brendan Fischer, general counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy.
Another tort reform bill passed by ALEC would virtually eliminate the interest accumulated on a lawsuit award that a corporate wrongdoer would have to pay. If a company is sued and found to be liable for money damages by a judge or jury, interest is added for the time between when an award is decided and the final judgment (called prejudgment interest) and the time between the final judgment and when the award is collected (called postjudgment interest). If this interest were eliminated, a company could delay paying the lawsuit award without any risk of paying more.
Overriding Local Laws
ALEC has passed several model state laws that seek to overturn or “preempt” local and county laws.
For example, one ALEC model bill would overturn municipal broadband initiatives that have brought Internet access to rural areas through city-run systems with higher speeds and lower rates than private companies.
Another ALEC model law stops local governments from enacting rules on genetically-modified (GMO) foods.