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ALEC Releases Model Education Bills; Foes Not Satisfied

For those of you who always wondered what exactly was in the American Legislative Exchange Council's model bills, your time is now.

ALEC hasn't been quite as much in the news as it was just over a year ago, but it is still considered a force in state policymaking circles. The conservative Washington policy shop and think tank is celebrated by right-leaning politicians and advocates not only for its wide-range of forceful legislative proposals, but for its effectiveness. Those on the left side of the spectrum loathe it, charging that it conducts lawmaking in secret and serves as a front group for corporations that engage in illegal lobbying. In education policy, ALEC has advocated for things like private-school vouchers, parent-trigger laws, and virtual education.

It was at the eye of a media firestorm last year, when liberal groups railed that it had supported "Stand Your Ground" laws regarding self-defense, which some alleged played a role in the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

For the first time, ALEC has now released its model bills on a large variety of issues, including model ALEC education policy. There are a total of 11 bills posted, dealing with everything from education savings accounts to environmental education. You'll notice that they all have dates on them from this year, but some of them are much older—the latter bill, for example, was originally approved by ALEC in 2000, and reaffirmed this year.

Foes of ALEC immediately hailed the development, saying that the group had finally crumpled under public pressure and released its model bills. In a March 15 statement, Common Cause, the Center for Media and Democracy, ColorOfChange, and others said: "We're pleased that after decades of secretly manipulating thousands of elected officials, the corporate bill mill known as 'ALEC' has decided to share some of its secrets."

But the groups also said that ALEC has a long way to go. They said the group should list its corporate members, and open up its meetings where the model bills and resolutions are discussed and voted on.

Lawmakers, in addition to corporations, are members of ALEC. Both are members of various policy "task forces" at ALEC, but state legislators have final say over ALEC's approval of model bills and resolutions.

In an interview, Bill Meierling, ALEC's spokesman, denied that the group "caved" to public pressure in any way. He said that the decision to post the bills came after an internal discussion among members, in order to promote transparency and to get more public input on ALEC's legislative decisions.

"People want to know what's happening, why we're making the decisions," he said. "Further, in that same vein of transparency, we really believe that (having) more eyes on the process makes better policy."

Meierling did say that ALEC has no plans to reveal its corporate and legislative members, identify individuals representing corporations within ALEC, or open up their model bill task force meetings.

Groups like ColorOfChange called on corporations to drop their ALEC membership last year, and several did. But just under a year later, Mieirling said that some of those corporations that left last spring have returned, although he declined to name any of them. He also said the number of private-sector members of the group remains steady from last year, at about 400.

At the same time, he acknowledged that ALEC's connection to Martin's death last year was difficult, and that the organization learned from it. ALEC dropped the policy task force that dealt with self-defense laws last year, after a storm of protest.

This year, he noted, in education policy, ALEC is prioritizing education savings accounts (which act like vouchers) and virtual education.

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