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Asbestos-bill veto was Dayton’s 7th related to ALEC efforts

Gov. Mark Dayton

On Monday, Gov. Mark Dayton issued his 12th veto of the current session, returning Senate File 1236 to the Legislature accompanied by a sharply worded letter. The so-called corporate successor liability law would have curtailed the legal liability of a company that buys or merges with another company that in any way dealt with asbestos.

“The true impact of this legislation should not go without comment,” Dayton wrote, detailing the deadly legacy of asbestos manufacturing and exposure. “I opposed efforts in the United States Senate to limit exposure of asbestos manufacturers and to shift the costs of these injuries to taxpayers and others.”

The bill was the seventh vetoed measure this year that originally was drafted and disseminated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive, far-right group that has birthed much of the virtually identical pro-business, anti-labor legislation that has swept through statehouses nation-wide over the last two years.

Five of the vetoed ALEC bills would have reduced corporate exposure to lawsuits and potential damages in Minnesota. The other two are the Voter ID bill and the Castle Doctrine or “Shoot First” bill.

In total over the last two years 60 ALEC-generated bills have been introduced in Minnesota, according to a comparison of model and local bills conducted by Common Cause of Minnesota.

Scrutiny leads to defections

The vetoes also may have marked a watershed moment for ALEC, which arguably owes its success to its ability to seed model legislation while avoiding the public scrutiny lobbyists are typically subject to. Yesterday, McDonald’s became the sixth concern to withdraw from the group in the wake of efforts by Common Cause and others to expose ALEC’s workings.

Last week, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Intuit confirmed they had left ALEC; on Monday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would stop making grants to the group.

A year ago, few Minnesotans had heard of ALEC, which bills itself as a membership group and thus not subject to campaign finance laws. Corporations and think tanks pay tens of thousands of dollars in dues each year, while lawmakers — virtually all of them Republicans — pay just $50.

ALEC spends the money putting on lavish, expenses-paid conferences at posh resorts where private-sector members share model legislation they’ve drafted with elected officials. The bills are then introduced, sometimes verbatim, in multiple states simultaneously.

Those who don’t want to take advantage of the junkets can log onto ALEC’s website to download model bills.

Many of the education-reform efforts promoted by House and Senate GOP leaders here over the last two years were lineal descendants of bills on ALEC’s wish list, which the advocacy group Parents United has tracked closely.

Generous donors to campaigns

ALEC’s corporate members also can be generous during campaign season, spending heavily to influence legislative races. In 2010 affiliated groups spent more than $600,000 in Minnesota, according to an exhaustive Common Cause preview of the 2012 session released in January. One of the largest donors to local candidates, State Farm, stood to benefit from several of the vetoed bills.

SF 530 would have changed the computation of interest on verdicts, awards and judgments; SF 429 would have limited attorney’s fees awarded in lawsuits; SF 373 would have shortened the statute of limitations from six to four years; and SF 149 would make it harder for class-action lawsuits to go forward.

By contrast, the asbestos liability bill likely would have benefited just one company, Crown, Cork and Seal, which has operations in Minnesota. Identical legislation has been passed in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi and has been proposed in a number of other states.

SF 1236 was introduced by Waseca Republican Mike Parry, who serves on ALEC’s telecommunications and information task force. MinnPost was unable to reach Parry, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in the First Congressional District.

Its House counterpart was introduced by Belle Plaine Republican Kelby Woodard, who is not known to be an ALEC member and who did not return MinnPost’s call asking for comment. Several of House File 1418’s 13 other co-sponsors are active in ALEC.

Denials of association

In the past, lawmakers have protested reporting by MinnPost and other news organizations linking their legislation to ALEC. Some, including Burnsville Republican Rep. Pam Myhra, author of a bill that requires Minnesota high schoolers to take at least one digital class in order to graduate, have complained that they have not attended ALEC events or that particular bills originated elsewhere.

In February, after Dayton decried ALEC’s likely role in the Minnesota tort reform bills, Parry told the Faribault Daily News that the group did not play a role in any of his legislation. “I don’t know about the other [ALEC members]. If we were to do something [from ALEC], we’d take it right back to our revisor and legal staff,” he said. Regarding the asbestos bill, “ALEC didn’t even get in the picture,” he said.

Other ALEC-authored measures introduced in 2011 and 2012 would make Minnesota a right-to-work state, designate English as the official state language, require a “supermajority” vote to enact certain tax changes affecting corporations, bar agricultural whistleblowers — including journalists — from reporting on diseased animals entering the food chain, lower taxes on smokeless tobacco, prohibit the creation of the health insurance exchanges and individual mandate to purchase insurance that are central features of Obamacare, and lock up more illegal immigrants, presumably in member Corrections Corporation of America’s empty private prison in Appleton, Minn.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/11/2012 - 09:53 am.

    You have to hand it to them,

    they certainly know how to choose a name for their bills. In this case, it was “The Innocent Successor” bill, which might lead you to think it was offered to protect organizations which unwittingly purchased a company with potential liability for asbestos injuries. Of course, when you actually read the text of the bill, you find that it extends to known liabilities and not only limits liabilities to an amount determined by the price paid but also counts insurance payments made on behalf of the predecessor corporation against that limit. In other words, it’s not simply about protecting innocent players.

    While there may be arguments in support of curtailing liability for asbestos claims arising out of events which occurred in the very distant past, (e.g. economic efficiency) there is evidence that the industry as a whole and major players in particular were aware of the hazards to users long before asbestos was removed from the market place and that this information was withheld from the public at large.

    Given the requirements of due diligence in the purchase of a business or its assets, it is highly unlikely that any company with potential asbestos-related liability has been unwittlingly purchased by another in many decades. I can only conclude that this bill is intended to relieve organizations of liabilities which they knew they might be assuming when they acquired the assets or company in question. These costs don’t disappear; they’re simply placed on the affected individuals, our health insurance industry, and the public to the extent it is required to carry the costs of medical treatment. Dayton could reasonably call his action “The Innocent Public Veto”.

  2. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 04/11/2012 - 10:24 am.

    Nice to have an adult governor

    Emmer would have signed off on all of them.

    I hope voters remember this at the polls in November

  3. Submitted by Lora Jones on 04/11/2012 - 10:33 am.

    All of these vetoed bills

    are blatant efforts to privatize profits and socialize risks so that the corporations can give bigger and bigger chunks of money to their CEOs and leave the taxpayers holding the bag. Depressingly typical.

    I wonder when some of our corporation worshipping repug rank and file are going to wake up and realize that corporate welfare is more pernicious and destructive and costly than humanitarian welfare has ever been or could ever be.

  4. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 04/11/2012 - 11:02 am.

    Thank You Gov. Dayton!

    And shame on Republican legislators for passing this bill! Is there no one left in the Republican legislature who will choose to protect the interests and rights of families and individuals over those of corporate special interests? There was a time – and not too long ago – that most Republican legislators would actually try hard to defend the people in their districts against this kind of corporate bullying. It has been widely reported by MinnPost and others that the Republican Party of Minnesota is in a very deep hole with its finances; it appears that is also the case with its common sense.

  5. Submitted by James Murck on 04/11/2012 - 11:21 am.

    Our American Way

    This ALEC is the scariest effort yet, by Republicans, to undermine American Democracy for, of and by THE PEOPLE! They are so blindsided by their ideology that they don’t even care what it takes to ram their anti-American, destructive, ideology passed into law. These kinds of developments already had their dark day back in 1933 somwhere east of the Rhine. We need to open our consumer stuffed eyes and not let this happen again…

  6. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 04/11/2012 - 11:53 am.

    A Dayton reelection slogan

    If Dayton campaigns saying, “I vetoed a pile of ALEC bills”, there won’t be a point in running a GOP candidate.

    Oh right, they want to outlaw voting by Democrats. Well, that would even things up quite a bit.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 04/11/2012 - 11:58 am.

    I hope MinnPost never lets itself get intimidated by the ALEC folks, including by lMN legislators who falsely claim that ALEC agendas and model bill language never infects their work. The presence of ALEC in Minnesota state legislation and its secret corporate membership are really the main issue here, to me.

    Although I do agree that, with all the follow-the-ALEC-leader GOP legislators out there who haven’t got a clue about how to govern, it is a relief to have an adult as governor.

  8. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 04/11/2012 - 12:16 pm.

    “Emmer would have signed off on all of them.”

    As sure as rain falls from the sky, Bill.

  9. Submitted by Susan Vento on 04/11/2012 - 01:12 pm.

    A compassionate and wise veto

    Having seen the impact of asbestos and mesothelioma up close and painfully personal, I am so very grateful to Governor Dayton for vetoing the asbestos bill and sending such a perfectly written veto message to the legislators who proposed it.
    Thank you to Beth Hawkins and minnpost for shedding much needed light on ALEC, the Koch brothers and their cohorts in the MN Legislature regarding their over-the-top efforts to legislation which would erode the basic rights we as Americans all too often take for granted.

  10. Submitted by Mark Kulda on 04/11/2012 - 03:12 pm.

    It’s too bad her reporting is so wrong

    In her third paragraph, she is counting the four tort reform bills that were vetoed earlier….none of which were ALEC bills. ALEC had nothing to do with them whatsoever despite what you might hear from Common Cause, which has a clear defamatory agenda here.

    James Hamilton is just plain wrong when he asserts comapanies like Crown Cork and Seal didn’t do enough due diligence and that the evidence about asbestos was clear a long time ago. Crown Cork owned an asbestos company for less than 30 days back in the early 60s…..long before any actual direct causal link evidence was known. Crown sold the asbestos company within 30 days, keeping the cork company. To say that Crown should have known and now has to be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars so that the personal injury attorneys can get their greedy windfall and not truly help injured parties is ludicrous.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/12/2012 - 08:46 am.

      Assuming what you say is true,

      the bill does not limit its application to Crown Cork and Seal. Moreover, Mr. Kulda is simply wrong. Documents produced in decades of asbestos litigation pretty clearly demonstrate that the causal link between asbestos and injuries was well known to the industry. Consider this:

      “The first documented death related to asbestos was in 1906. In the early 1900s researchers began to notice a large number of early deaths and lung problems in asbestos mining towns. The first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in the UK in 1924. By the 1930s, the UK regulated ventilation and made asbestosis an excusable work-related disease, followed by the U.S about ten years later.[7] The term mesothelioma was first used in medical literature in 1931; its association with asbestos was first noted sometime in the 1940s.”

      and this:

      “In 1930, the major asbestos company Johns-Manville produced a report, for internal company use only, about medical reports of asbestos worker fatalities.[73] In 1932, a letter from U.S. Bureau of Mines to asbestos manufacturer Eagle-Picher stated, in relevant part, “It is now known that asbestos dust is one of the most dangerous dusts to which man is exposed.”[74]

      In 1933, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. doctors found that 29% of workers in a Johns-Manville plant had asbestosis.[73] Likewise, in 1933, Johns-Manville officials settled lawsuits by 11 employees with asbestosis on the condition that the employees’ lawyer agree to never again “directly or indirectly participate in the bringing of new actions against the Corporation.”[74] In 1934, officials of two large asbestos companies, Johns-Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan, edited an article about the diseases of asbestos workers written by a Metropolitan Life Insurance Company doctor. The changes downplayed the danger of asbestos dust.[74] In 1935, officials of Johns-Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan instructed the editor of Asbestos magazine to publish nothing about asbestosis.[74] In 1936, a group of asbestos companies agreed to sponsor research on the health effects of asbestos dust, but required that the companies maintain complete control over the disclosure of the results.[73]”

      Protection of personal injury lawyers’ profits is not my concern, though for the record I was employed more than 20 years ago by a firm representing asbestos claimants and undoubtedly received some compensation from such work during that period.

    • Submitted by Lora Jones on 04/12/2012 - 09:38 am.


      ALEC has a well-publicized “Tort Reform Boot Camp for State Legislators” and “model bills.” So . . some local GOOPer or his/her aide changes a word here and there and it’s magically home-grown and original? I couldn’t get away with such blatant plagarism in grade school for God’s sake

  11. Submitted by Mark Kulda on 04/12/2012 - 10:45 am.

    NONE of the four tort reform bills were from ALEC at all!!!!

    A completely separate group, Minnesotans for Lawsuit Reform, which is comprised of 62,000 Minnesota businesses as big as 3M and as small as the bowling alley down the street is who devised the four bills. They had nothnig at all to do with ALEC.
    The ALEC smear, by opponents of meaningful common sense lawsuit reform, was just a clever and deliberately deceptive (and completely untrue) attack by the personal injury lawyers to try to drum up opposition from people who will believe anything somebody tells them without checking it on their own.
    I think if you check, Crown Cork and Seal just wants to only have to pay their fair share. Is it fair for a company who only owned the assets of the asbestos subsidiary for 30 days which was the minimum time it took Crown to sell them off, to have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars? They only spend about six million for the whole transaction back in the early 1960s. So for their 30 day ownership for which they never actually took operational control of the asbestos assets, they have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars, most of which goes to personal injury attorneys and very little actually goes to people sickened? That’s just sickening.
    You don’t really realize that Crown Cork and Seal doesn’t pay for all this. They pass the costs along on the price of their products and then we consumers end up paying for all of this. So if you think the big asbestos windfall payday for the personal injury attorneys is coming from the CEO’s pocket or from the shareholders….think again… and I pay for all of this when we buy things from companies like Crown Cork and Seal that unfairly have to pay for frivilous lawsuits that mainly benefit personal injury lawyers who profit very handsomely and then make up lies to make you believe they somehow deserve it.

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