Today, lawmakers are struggling mightily to bring the current legislative session to an end. While they do so, let’s take a look ahead to next year’s session.
When the 2013-2014 Legislature convenes next year, among other pro-business measures we are likely to see a push for the further expansion of for-profit online schools, laws allowing school districts to opt out of state standards and regulations, a law limiting the state attorney general’s ability to sue on behalf of citizens, a bill calling for the repeal of requirements that energy companies generate a certain amount of power from renewable sources, a loosening of pipeline regulations and — a rerun from this year — a bid to lower taxes on “less risky” smokeless tobacco.
Did I happen across Carnac the Magnificent’s No. 2 mayonnaise jar? Kind of.
All of the examples above were taken from the agenda for next week’s meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), to be held at the Westin Charlotte in North Carolina. The programs for ALEC’s working groups are among 4,000 internal documents released last week by Common Cause in association with a complaint it had filed with the Internal Revenue Service challenging ALEC’s tax status.
The group bills itself as a nonprofit where private-sector members educate state lawmakers on the issues of the day. Common Cause argues that it is actually a lobbying group and not entitled to nonprofit status.
Model bills generated
The skinny, if you’ve remained ALEC-unaware during the last two years while its model legislation has made simultaneous appearances in statehouses coast to coast: Legislators pay $50 a year to belong, while corporate and think tank members pay tens of thousands. The money underwrites expenses-paid gatherings where private-public task forces generate the model bills.
In recent weeks, more than a dozen major corporations have left ALEC, largely in the wake of the controversy surrounding one of its bills, the “shoot first” law used to justify the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Indeed, ALEC recently announced that the task force behind the initiative would be “suspended.”
At the same time, Common Cause, the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy, Minnesota’s own grassroots Parents United and other groups have compared notes on ALEC documents, exposing its inner workings and membership roster.
Locally, some 60 pieces of ALEC-like legislation have been introduced over the last two years, according to a Common Cause analysis. Their Minnesota member-lawmaker-authors, however, routinely deny any connection.
Common Cause’s Minnesota affiliate is still studying the trove of documents buttressing the group’s IRS complaint for local details. So far, it has identified three more private-sector members: Best Buy, Medtronic and the educational testing and technology concern Scantron, headquartered in Eagan. Update regarding Medtronic: After publication of this post, a Medtronic spokeswoman informed MinnPost that Medtronic did not renew its ALEC membership in 2011 or 2012. Common Cause supplied us with an ALEC document listing three Medtronic people as members of ALEC’s health and human services task force as of July of 2011 and a Medtronic job ad that lists working with ALEC, dated October 2011; Medtronic said those appear to be materials that didn’t get updated, as it hasn’t renewed since the 2010 membership year.
Will Scantron be at the table in Charlotte? It has been in the recent past, along with other for-profit education-sector players who stand to benefit from the bills formulated by ALEC’s education task force.
Several members operate for profit, online-only schools in Minnesota and elsewhere. One of the initiatives taken up by legislatures last year and this year was mandated student participation in online or digital courses.
A measure signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton last week as a part of the 2012 omnibus education bill requires Minnesota high-school students to have taken at least one online-only class in order to graduate starting in 2014. Its original author, Rep. Pam Myhra, is an ALEC member but has vehemently denied her bill was an ALEC creation.
After approval of minutes from the last task force meeting, held in Scottsdale in December, the group’s education agenda in Charlotte includes the further expansion of online learning, according to the description of one of the bills to be discussed:
“This bill opens up the world of high-quality online course instruction to students. Each year, students in public school grades 7-12 would have the option to enroll in up to two online courses that award college credit or meet standards for core academic courses. The state would create standards and accountability measures to ensure that they are providing students with a course catalog containing only high-quality online course offerings. Funding for each online course is driven by the free-market in an open and competitive process, rather than simply allocating a portion of student funding unrelated to the actual cost to deliver the course.”
Also on the program is a “District and School Freedom Act”:
“This legislation creates a mechanism for public school districts and schools to request exemption from state education standards and regulations. Under this act, any district or school can create a list of state regulations or standards that, if exempted from, the district or school could operate more efficiently and better serve students.”
The suspended public safety and elections task force could have taken up policies concerning the collection and sharing of “biometric data,” provisional licenses for ex-offenders, “automated enforcement devices,” such as the “stop-on-red” traffic cameras Minneapolis purchased and then mothballed and a resolution in support of the Electoral College.
Will any Minnesota lawmakers be in attendance? If we actually had a direct line to Carnac in the Great Beyond, we could say.