ALEC Caves Under Pressure

Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON -- The American Legislative Exchange Council, the controversial corporate-sponsored lobbying group whose push for "stand your ground" gun laws and voter ID legislation ignited grassroots protests, announced Tuesday that it is getting out of the social policy field to focus on core economic issues.

Corporations associated with ALEC had been under siege from public interest and civil rights groups who demanded they cut ties with ALEC, most recently because of its successful push to pass "stand your ground" legislation in multiple states. Florida's version of that law has been cited as a reason why neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was not initially charged in the deadly shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Several companies -- including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's, Kraft and Intuit -- had already distanced themselves from ALEC before Tuesday's surprise announcement.

"We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy," David Frizzell, an Indiana state representative and current ALEC chairman, said in a statement.

Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorofChange, a civil rights group in the forefront of the campaign against ALEC, stopped short of declaring victory -- at least initially.

"I'm reading their statement as we speak," he told HuffPost. "It will be interesting as we parse out what that actually means, because ALEC sometimes says one thing and does something very different."

Robinson said he wants to see how the statement translates into action.

"This is good news in the sense that they have recognized that those ["stand your ground" and voter ID] bills represent an extreme agenda," said Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which published an exposé of ALEC this past fall.

From the New York Times Editorial on the subject:

The council, known as ALEC, has since become better known, with news organizations alerting the public to the damage it has caused: voter ID laws that marginalize minorities and the elderly, antiunion bills that hurt the middle class and the dismantling of protective environmental regulations.

Now it’s clear that ALEC, along with the National Rifle Association, also played a big role in the passage of the “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws around the country. The original statute, passed in Florida in 2005, was a factor in the local police’s failure to arrest the shooter of a Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin immediately after his killing in February.

That was apparently the last straw for several prominent corporations that had been financial supporters of ALEC. In recent weeks, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Intuit, Mars, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have stopped supporting the group, responding to pressure from activists and consumers who have formed a grass-roots counterweight to corporate treasuries. That pressure is likely to continue as long as state lawmakers are more responsive to the needs of big donors than the public interest.

The N.R.A. pushed Florida’s Stand Your Ground law through the State Legislature over the objections of law enforcement groups, and it was signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. It allows people to attack a perceived assailant if they believe they are in imminent danger, without having to retreat. John Timoney, formerly the Miami police chief, recently called the law a “recipe for disaster,” and he said that he and other police chiefs had correctly predicted it would lead to more violent road-rage incidents and drug killings. Indeed, “justifiable homicides” in Florida have tripled since 2005.

Nonetheless, ALEC — which counts the N.R.A. as a longtime and generous member — quickly picked up on the Florida law and made it one of its priorities, distributing it to legislators across the country. Seven years later, 24 other states now have similar laws, thanks to ALEC’s reach, and similar bills have been introduced in several other states, including New York.

The corporations abandoning ALEC aren’t explicitly citing the Stand Your Ground statutes as the reason for their decision. But many joined the group for narrower reasons, like fighting taxes on soda or snacks, and clearly have little interest in voter ID requirements or the N.R.A.’s vision of a society where anyone can fire a concealed weapon at the slightest hint of a threat.

 

Also from the Opinion pages of the New York Times:

THE very public controversy surrounding the killing on Feb. 26 of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, by a crime watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, was predictable.

In fact, I, along with other Florida chiefs of police, said so in a letter to the Legislature in 2005 when we opposed the passage of a law that not only enshrined the doctrine of “your home is your castle” but took this doctrine into the public square and added a new concept called “stand your ground.”

Use-of-force issues arose often during my 41-year policing career. In fact, officer-involved shootings were the No. 1 problem when I became Miami’s police chief in January 2003. But after we put in place new policies and training, officers went 20 months without discharging a single bullet at a person, while arrests increased over 30 percent.

Trying to control shootings by members of a well-trained and disciplined police department is a daunting enough task. Laws like “stand your ground” give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. It is a recipe for disaster.

At the time the Florida law was working its way through the Legislature, proponents argued that a homeowner should have the absolute right to defend himself and his home against an intruder and should not have to worry about the legal consequences if he killed someone. Proponents also maintained that there should be no judicial review of such a shooting.

But I pointed out at the time that even a police officer is held to account for every single bullet he or she discharges, so why should a private citizen be given more rights when it came to using deadly physical force? I also asked the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Dennis K. Baxley, to point to any case in Florida where a homeowner had been indicted or arrested as a result of “defending his castle.” He could not come up with a single one.

The only thing that is worse than a bad law is an unnecessary law. Clearly, this was the case here.

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