Copycat Legislation: You Can’t Make This Up

After a few announcements about upcoming actions and events, we focus on the insidious impact of “copycat” legislation, a practice perfected by ALEC and employed by dozens of industry think tanks and lobbyists to advance corporate goals at our expense. A US TODAY led two year study examined thousands of instances of copycat legislation and you won’t believe it.

Actions & Events

Chainbreaker Collective Presentation at City Council. Wednesday, April 10, 5pm. Please attend if possible! This Wednesday evening at the City Council meeting (hopefully at 5pm – but will send a better time estimate as soon as we know) Chainbreaker Collective and a group of local, allied groups will be announcing the start of the People’s Plan for the Heart of Santa Fe.  Please come to support Chainbreaker in this important moment. The midtown project could unfold as a mixed use market housing project that ignores the needs of the neighboring low-income community and could then increase gentrification and displacement, or it could be used to make real headway in addressing the need for 6000 units of low-income rental housing. In short, what happens here is important and too often the voices of impacted communities are drowned out by those of influential developers and other business interests.  Chainbreaker have been working for a year to develop a plan for the sustainable use of the midtown project.  This is when Retake members can be most effective, standing behind important allies for social justice. We have spent many hours in hearings at the Roundhouse. This will require only an hour of your time. Let’s Do This. We will have buttons for Retake folks who attend and if you already have one, please wear it.

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center Legislative Debrief  Friday, April 12 from 9:00 – 11:00 am, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Fellowship Hall, 107 W Barcelona Rd, Santa Fe.. Coffee and conversation focused on the first legislative session under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Join Law Center executive director Doug Meiklejohn,  staff attorney Charlie de Saillan, and special guests:  Sen. Liz Stefanics (invited, not yet confirmed) and Rep. Susan Herrera (invited, not yet confirmed)  Get the inside scoop on the long session, what environmental bills passed –  or didn’t – and learn how your support for the nonprofit Law Center can have a  critical impact in our ongoing fight to protect New Mexico’s air, land, water  and communities.  Please RSVP by April 8th to Janiece Jonsin at (505) 989‐9022, or jjonsin@nmelc.org

New Energy Economy’s Legislative Debrief, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, 5:30PM – 7:00PM, Wednesday,  El Museo Cultural, 555 Camino de la Familia, Santa Fe (across the Railroad tracks from Farmers Market. Topics to be discussed include: Legislative Session Debrief; Unveiling our next bold initiative before the PRC to defend consumers, demand corporate accountability, and protect our environment; Upcoming Supreme Court Case on renewable energy bid-rigging practice by PNM  CLICK to Email your RSVP for April 17th convening and be among the first to hear about initiatives New Energy Economy is bringing forward this Spring and Summer.

1 celebrateThursday, April 18, 5:30pm-7:15 pm, Center for Progress & Justice, 1420 Cerrillos, Santa Fe. Please note the slight modification in time.  We were contacted by the Sunrise Movement in Santa Fe as they were trying to organize a Green New Deal Town Hall with Rep. Deb Haaland and the only day she could make it in the near future was on April 18.  So we made some adjustments in the timing will integrate both events, with Retake’s Celebration and Volunteer Appreciation from 5:30-7:15 pm and the Sunrise Movement Town Hall with Rep. Haaland at 7:30.

During our celebration at 5:30, we will also update you on our analysis of the Roundhouse Session and how you/we/Retake can continue our work. Rest assured that while some wins were achieved, as our Report Card will reveal, we have a great way to go….and we are starting to get a clearer picture of what we need to do to prepare for future legislative sessions.  Join us.

Please RSVP by writing to Paul at Paul@RetakeOurDemocracy.org. While the event is FREE, an RSVP is required by April. 16.  Sooner is better. Much better.  We are ordering salad and pizza and need to prepare sufficient tables with table cloths and china (ok, no china), but we do ask that you bring your own implements for eating and drinking and the event is BYOB with wine and beer permitted.  Join us!!!  AND WE REALLY NEED TO START GETTING RSVPs.

Industry Generated Copycat Legislation’s Horrific Impact on Communities Nationwide

USA TODAY collaborated with The Center for Public Integrity and the Arizona Republic on an investigation where they examined nearly 1 million bills in all 50 states and Congress using a computer algorithm developed to detect similarities in language. With over 150 computers analyzing the data night and day for months, the team identified tens of thousands of bills with identical phrases, then traced the origins of that language in dozens of those bills across the country. The investigation found at least 10,000 bills almost entirely copied from model legislation were introduced nationwide in the past eight years, and more than 2,100 of those bills were signed into law and the sources of these bills will not surprise you: Conservative think tanks like ALEC and Industry lobbyists provided 80% of the bills that were copied.

Efforts to reduce the influence of lobbyists and industry on the election and legislative process are unable to regulate the impact of these copycat bills as they don’t appear on expense reports, or campaign finance forms. They don’t require someone to register as a lobbyist or sign in at committee hearings. But once injected into the lawmaking process, they can go viral, spreading state to state, executing an agenda to the letter.

The USA TODAY/CPI/Republic report found that models are routinely drafted with deceptive titles and descriptions to disguise their true intent. For example, the Asbestos Transparency Act didn’t help people exposed to asbestos. It was written by corporations who wanted to make it harder for victims to recoup money. The “HOPE Act,” introduced in nine states, was written by a conservative advocacy group to make it more difficult for people to get food stamps. After considering just those two instances, now multiply that by 1000 to get a sense of the scope of this practice.  From the report:

  • “Special interests sometimes work to create the illusion of expert endorsements, public consensus or grassroots support. One man testified as an expert in 13 states to support a bill that makes it more difficult to sue for asbestos exposure. In several states, lawmakers weren’t told that he was a member of the organization that wrote the model legislation on behalf of the asbestos industry, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
  • Bills copied from model legislation have been used to override the will of local voters and their elected leaders. Cities and counties have raised their minimum wage, banned plastic bags and destroyed seized guns, only to have industry groups that oppose such measures make these local laws illegal with model bills passed in state legislatures. Among them: Airbnb has supported the conservative Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, which pushed model bills to strike down local laws limiting short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods in four states.
  • Industry groups have had extraordinary success pushing copycat bills that benefit themselves. More than 4,000 such measures were introduced during the period analyzed by USA TODAY/Arizona Republic. One that passed in Wisconsin limited pain-and-suffering compensation for injured nursing-home residents, restricting payouts to lost wages, which the elderly residents don’t have.”

A few examples taken from the report follow.

The Asbestos Transparency Act. Despite the title, the bill had nothing to do with requiring companies to disclose to consumers what products contained asbestos or informing those who had been exposed to the cancer-causing mineral how to get help. Instead the Act portrayed corporations as victims of litigation filed by people harmed by asbestos and created obstacles to those who have been impacted by asbestos exposure. “I can tell you for a fact that families don’t have time for all these hoops they want you to jump through,” said Chris Winokur, whose husband Bob was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015 and died nine months later. “They’re trying to make it more difficult to sue.” USA TODAY/Arizona Republic found the Asbestos Transparency Act, a product of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-supported model bill factory, has been introduced in at least 17 states since 2012.  It became law in at least 11 states.
The Campus Free Speech Act. The Campus Free Speech Act prevents universities from blocking controversial speakers and imposes penalties on students, including expulsion, for protesting such events. The measure, written by the Goldwater Institute, is a reaction to liberal protesters at Middlebury College, UC-Berkeley, University of Florida and other campuses who have disrupted speeches by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro and white supremacist Richard Spencer, among others.

Honda Accord Airbag Malfunction & Insurance Industry Copycat Bill. You may recall the problems with Honda airbags as it was widely reported. When engaged by a collision, instead of providing safety via an airbag cushion, he defective airbags shot a piece of metal into the unsuspecting driving, akin to getting a piece of shrapnel. The USA TODAY report focused on one instance where a man purchased a used Honda Accord from a used-car dealer who sold him the car without fixing the airbags or warning him that Honda had recalled the vehicle three years earlier, according to a lawsuit filed by his family.

By the time Solis was killed in 2015, similar accidents were piling up nationwide amid an unprecedented series of recalls for an array of dangerous defects – from shrapnel-flinging airbags to ignition switches that shut off engines. For auto dealers, the string of accidents was a warning sign of what was to come: a barrage of lawsuits filed against them for selling recalled used cars without fixing them first.  Auto dealers came up with a plan to pre-empt the problem. They crafted what’s known as “model legislation” that would allow them to continue selling recalled used cars, so long as they disclosed open recalls to customers somewhere in a stack of sales documents. They then turned to their army of lobbyists – more than 600 on call in 43 states – to help get the measure passed, one state at a time.”

In the past five years, versions of auto dealers’ copycat bill have been introduced in at least 11 states – California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. So far only Tennessee and Pennsylvania have adopted them, but Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey and New York still have measures under consideration.

Preemption Bills. Model-legislation factories have increasingly proposed what are known as “preemption” bills. These laws, in effect, allow state legislators to dictate to city councils and county governing boards what they can and cannot do within their jurisdiction—including preventing them from raising the minimum wage, banning plastic grocery bags, and destroying guns. In all fairness, NM passed just such a preemption bill prohibiting local jurisdictions from passing Right to Work bills, so the strategy can work both ways.  However, if you recall the graphic at the beginning of this post, you will see that for every progressive copycat bill there are 8 generated by industry, ALEC and other conservative think tanks like Goldwater Institute.  Other copycat bills described in the report include:

  • “Kansas stopped local efforts to require restaurants to list calories on their menus.
  • Arizona and New Hampshire prevented local regulations on home rentals. Airbnb has lobbied against home-sharing restrictions, often with the Goldwater Institute’s assistance.
  • One model pushed by ALEC and the Goldwater Institute prohibits local jurisdictions from creating occupational licensing requirements. It reflects conservatives’ and libertarians’ belief that job licensing stifles competition and hurts the economy, and should only be required when it involves health and safety.”

In principle, there is nothing wrong with the concept of taking “best practices” to develop legislation more easily and to learn from other states and jurisdictions to craft bills that achieve the desired results. The problem lies entirely in who is doing the crafting and what are the desired results. In the instances above, the work is entirely duplicitous, using artfully crafted titles to disguise the intent, and then crafts complex bills that defy analysis. Retake and its team of researchers will devote time to exploring the extent to which NM utilizes copycat legislation. The good news is that the report identifies the prevalence of the use of copycat bills by state and NM is near the bottom of the list, for once at the bottom of a list where we want to be at the bottom.

The lengthy report produced by USA TODAY/CPI/Republic goes into great detail and is well worth your time. They provide an interesting animated map function that shows how a copycat bill can start in one or two states and over 2-3 years spread to dozens of other states and examine many other examples of the use of copycat legislation and the insidious and disingenuous ways in which it helps industry continue to exploit us and avoid taking responsibility for doing so. Yet another example of how unfettered capitalism and corporate greed is at the root of social, climate, economic and racial injustice. We have much to do. Stay tuned.

Click here to read the full report.

 

One thought on “Copycat Legislation: You Can’t Make This Up

  1. I’ve been trying to RSVP Paul and I can’t get connected. Soo..I guess I’ll be at the celebration on the 18th, which is my 82nd Birthday. Wasn’t sure what I’d be doing, but this is appropriate and special, for me, since the Santa Fe community has been one of my biggest gifts in life, for the past 37 years, that I’ve lived here.

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