Many people are well aware of the influence powerful corporations have on legislation, but what happens when many of the bills introduced by elected representatives are actually written by lobbyists?
Each year, hundreds of bills are drafted by special interest groups with little more than a “fill-in-the-blank” for the legislator to sign. Such bills are then introduced with few, if any substantive changes made.
Known as copycat or model legislation, corporate-sponsored bills routinely strike down laws that protect consumers or enact new rules preventing consumers from taking action. By commanding the language in bills sponsored by an elected official, special interests are able to shortcut the legislative process and steer policy in directions they favor.
Business-Friendly Laws Subvert the Public Interest
A recent investigation by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity uncovered widespread evidence of this highly suspect practice. After analyzing nearly 1 million bills introduced in the last 8 years from all 50 states, they found:
- At least 10,000 bills introduced by lawmakers were almost entirely copied from model legislation.
- More than 2,100 of those bills were signed into law
- Model legislation often overrides local voters and elected officials
- Once model legislation is passed in one state, it spreads quickly
The investigation found more than 80 bills based on model legislation intended to limit the public’s ability to sue corporations. A bill passed in Wisconsin, for example, made it so injured nursing home residents could only receive pain-and-suffering compensation for lost wages, which is a sick joke on the retired population receiving care at such facilities.
Putting roadblocks in the way of people seeking justice after corporate wrongdoing is not in the interest of the public. In the words of Lisa Graves, co-director of the watchdog group Documented, who spoke with USA Today:
“No citizens are saying, ‘Hey, can you make it harder to sue if … low-paid (nursing home) orderlies happened to kill or injure my parents’… That’s not a thing citizens are clamoring for. But you know who is? The nursing home industry, and big business in general.”
To what extent are lawmakers aware that they are introducing lobbyist-crafted legislation? Investigators spoke with Pennsylvania State Rep. Thomas Murt, who sponsored 72 bills that were identified as model legislation. Thirteen of those bills became law. Murt said he was “stunned” by the discovery and promised to “reconsider his support.”
Astonishing though it may be, Murt’s situation is hardly unusual. Of the 50 sponsors of model legislation investigators talked to, only half were aware of their bill’s origins. Five of the legislators claimed to have written the bills themselves, even when confronted with evidence to the contrary.
Many times, copycat bills are given extraordinarily deceptive titles. The so-called “HOPE” Act, for example, made it more difficult for people to get food stamps. Bills blocking raises to the minimum wage were called “uniform minimum wage” laws. Such language sugarcoats the bills’ true intentions and intentionally misleads people.
This trickery has real consequences. One of the bills Murt will reconsider limits the ability of asbestos victims to sue. Talking with USA Today, he said he would never support such a bill. Yet through a mix of ignorance and deception, he had sponsored just such a piece of poisonous legislation.
The Asbestos Transparency Act — Textbook Deceptive Legislation
The Asbestos Transparency Act has been introduced in 17 states and become law in 11. If this bill were about making it easy for the public to get information about asbestos, it would be a good thing. It’s not. All this bill does is make it more difficult for asbestos victims to sue the companies who harmed them.
This law is a wolf in sheep’s clothing — and the disguise is getting really old. Like the FACT Act, which has now morphed into the PROTECT Act, the Asbestos Transparency Act is designed to sound like something safe and necessary.
The truth is, these bills are crafted by the asbestos industry with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC serves as a model legislation factory, churning out bills that favor industry and then putting them in the hands of lawmakers. They are the powerful, secretive organization behind the relentless campaign of misleading asbestos legislation.
The PROTECT Act claims to be serving the interest of asbestos victims by “protecting” mesothelioma trust funds from fraudulent claims. Really, the bill’s intent is to delay and stonewall asbestos victims so that they cannot file a claim. Given the difficult prognosis of mesothelioma, this is a truly heartless tactic.
“These acts are egregious affronts of our civil rights as asbestos victims, and we cannot remain silent,” said Linda Reinstein, president and CEO of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). “We must not allow these bills to pass, adding to the defendant’s bag of tricks that help them evade justice.”