ALEC meeting in Dallas provides a preview for the next state sessions

07/31/2014 3:18 PM

07/31/2014 4:22 PM

If you want to get a read on the next legislative season in Missouri and Kansas, you could get a few hints from the lawmakers’ friend. This would be the friend named ALEC, the pro-business, anti-consumer organization that fashions cookie-cutter “model legislation” for every conservative state legislator in the land.

ALEC and its adherents — including GOP leaders in both state capitols — have been responsible for some of the most contentious legislative battles of recent years. Many of them involve preserving and enhancing major corporate and industrial interests, especially those of its fossil-fuel funders such as Koch Industries. Or, as ALEC puts it, “Championing Policies to Enhance Prosperity.”

ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, is holding its annual meeting this week in Dallas. (The group held a policy workshop for lawmakers earlier this year in Kansas City.) Based on ALEC’s meeting agenda, it’s possible to foresee certain topics and strategies likely to emerge next year in Jefferson City and Topeka.

Of course, energy production and the energy marketplace rank high. Surely Kansas lawmakers, doing the bidding of ALEC and Koch, are preparing for another attack to repeal tax credits and output goals for renewable energy, despite the fact that the program has boosted the wind-power industry — and brought good-paying jobs — in the state. The effort failed this year, by a slim margin in the Kansas House, but repeal proponents are relentless.

ALEC is pushing an effort to expand exports of oil and natural gas, an issue tied strongly to the fracking industry, big oil and GOP mouthpieces such as Sen. John McCain, who want to use U.S. energy exports to Europe as a way to punish Russia over Ukraine.

Also ripe for discussion in Dallas will be strategies for thwarting the Environmental Protection Agency (think: coal power in Kansas) and the Endangered Species Act (sorry, lesser prairie-chicken, you’re toast). And get ready to hear a new batch of right-wing talking points on energy, as ALEC feeds its members a primer on “How to Think and Talk About Climate and Energy Issues.” Only the snarkiest among us would wonder whether ALEC’s allies in the two statehouses know how to think for themselves on this or any other issue.

Along with energy policy and the standard anti-union, anti-public schools and income-tax cutting efforts, the next year in ALEC World could belong to the insurance industry. For example, ALEC is holding policy workshops on the emergence of the new ride-sharing services — “Will Over-Regulation Limit Innovation and Competition in Car-for-Hire Services?” — apparently with a focus on regulations involving insurance requirements.

Similarly, ALEC attendees will explore the “public-private partnership” in the realm of the $14 billion surety bail industry. ALEC’s minions for years have been pushing for higher bail amounts and other favors for the commercial bail industry. At the same time, consumer advocates and judicial-reform think tanks such as the Justice Policy Institute have called for the elimination of for-profit bail bonding, arguing that it’s ripe for fraud and corruption.

This is why elections matter. The conventional wisdom suggests that turnout will be low for Tuesday’s local and state primaries and November’s general elections. It also suggests that diehard conservatives will outnumber less enthusiastic moderates at the polls. Voters should take more responsibility for what happens in their backyards and their state legislatures. Make sure your voices are heard.

Sunday in Opinion: A rundown of the hottest area races.

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