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April 18, 2012 | By | Posted in Legislature

Castle doctrine, voter ID spur attacks against conservative group

ALEC promises focus on job creation, economic growth
 
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
 
HARRISBURG — A national conservative organization that has helped lawmakers nationwide draft model legislation is under attack from the left for its involvement with such controversial proposals as the voter ID and Castle Doctrine measures.

In response to criticism that included the shooting death of Florida teenager Treyvon Martin, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, said it would suspend its task force on social and electoral issues and redouble its focus on economic growth and job creation.
 
“We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles,” said David Frizzell, an Indiana state representative and ALEC’s national chairman.
 
Founded in 1981, ALEC bills itself as a nonpartisan membership association for conservative lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism and individual liberty. ALEC also claims to have drafted more than 1,000 pieces of model legislation. 
 
With Republicans in control of Pennsylvania's state government, conservative initiatives like requiring all voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, have moved ahead. Similarly, Pennsylvania expanded Second Amendment rights last year to allow the use of deadly force in self-defense — the so-called castle doctrine — even in public places.
Those and other proposals recently have been seized on by liberals and left-leaning advocacy groups to cast ALEC and its members as a shadowy corporate-run entity, which uses conservative lawmakers as puppets. More than 90 percent of ALEC's members are Republicans.
 
National criticism of ALEC has climbed in the wake of the Martin shooting. The group helped to shape the “stand-your-ground” legislation in Florida, similar to the law passed last year in Pennsylvania.  Several corporations with ties to ALEC, including Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods, recently ended their relationship with the group.
 
Among the groups critical of ALEC’s efforts in Pennsylvania is Keystone Progress, a self-described “progressive advocacy organization” with openly acknowledged ties to public- and private-sector unions, environmental groups and MoveOn.org, a nationally known liberal nonprofit.
 
Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress, said he does not dispute ALEC’s right to provide lawmakers with model legislation — as groups on both sides of the aisle do — but said lawmakers should not introduce such bills word for word.
 
 
He specifically pointed to legislation drafted by ALEC that was introduced last year by state Rep. Matthew Baker, R-Tioga, which declared the federal health-care reform law as unlawful in Pennsylvania. Similar bills were introduced in several other states at the same time.
 
Baker said he relies on ALEC for useful information and research about legislation.
 
 
When it comes to model legislation, each lawmaker must be responsible for their own bills, regardless of where the ideas come from, Baker said.
 
In a memo to legislative members, Ron Scheberle, ALEC’s executive director, went on the offensive against the group’s critics, describing them as “a coalition of opportunistic unions, liberal foundations and activists” who “advocate for more and more European-style economic policies that will keep us mired in slow growth.”
 
The memo was distributed last week and obtained by PA Independent on Thursday.
 
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, is the Pennsylvania state chairman for ALEC and was the prime sponsor of the voter ID bill signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett last month. He also was a lead sponsor of the expansion of Pennsylvania’s castle doctrine bill, which passed with bi-partisan support in the state House and Senate last year.
 
Metcalfe said both proposals advanced in Pennsylvania without significant backing from ALEC, and accused liberal groups of unnecessarily demonizing the organization. 
 
 
State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, an outspoken critic of the group, said ALEC has had a “tremendous influence” on a various issues.
 
 
In his memo to ALEC members, Scheberle said critics from the left were particularly troubled by the organization’s partnership with state lawmakers in opposing the national health-care law.
 
“They know that our collective work in promoting and passing resolutions to reign in (the federal Patient Protection and Health Care Act) is a threat to their greatest cause,” Scheberle wrote.
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