Analysis finds state legislation copied from D.C. group

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HARRISBURG -- When it comes to state legislation, a liberal advocacy group says imitation isn't a form of flattery but rather a sneaky way for outside groups to write their own rules.

An analysis released Tuesday from Keystone Progress points to four Pennsylvania measures that they say are nearly identical to model legislation peddled by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

The right-leaning association of state legislators has drawn national attention recently for reports that its model bills are being duplicated in statehouses across the country, and it has been criticized for the influence industry representatives are said to have in the drafting of that model legislation. It has also taken flack for its annual conferences, which lawmakers can attend free of charge and learn about model policies.

While several state lawmakers -- including Cranberry Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe -- have attended those conferences and reported the expense-paid trip on their ethics forms, it was the mirror-image legislation that drew much of the criticism from liberal detractors.

In the Keystone Progress report, those measures -- involving state pre-emption of the federal health-care law, a proposed council on privatizing government services, regulatory changes for small businesses and high-risk insurance pools -- are shown side by side with the ALEC models.

There are minor differences between the pairs, usually with a word, such as "commonwealth," swapped into the proposal.

Michael Morrill of Keystone Progress said part of his group's concern comes from how those model measures are crafted. He described it as a secretive process with input from corporations that pay significant sums in order to offer their policy suggestions to lawmakers.

With a full-time legislature, that bill-drafting process should be done by officials and staffers, he said.

"There's no excuse whatsoever to cut and paste," Mr. Morrill said in an interview. "Should outside groups be writing our bills behind closed doors?"

But Rep. Seth Grove, a York County Republican who introduced the measure on a privatization council, said those model bills give lawmakers an idea of how others are approaching an issue.

Mr. Grove said the templates are put together by a task force of private-sector members and state legislators, usually by searching for an example that is working well in a certain state. His proposal, on finding government efficiencies, is based on a panel set up in Florida, he said.

"There's some who are trying to portray it as corporations trying to take over legislation -- that's not it," he said. He added that he also looks for policy ideas from the moderate National Conference of State Legislatures.

Conservatives aren't the only ones promoting model legislation, said G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. He said labor groups and liberal think-tanks regularly pass politicians' policy suggestions from their point of view.

While an association with a particular group could taint certain measures, Mr. Madonna said for most Pennsylvanians following a measure, "they're more interested in what it says or does, not how it got there."

Mr. Grove's bill, which has lingered in the House State Government Committee since it was introduced in January, closely matches the ALEC proposal it was based on. But he said that if the bill moves forward, he fully expects it to be tweaked.

"Every bill changes in some way or another," Mr. Grove said. "Even if you introduce it as is, there's no way this is going to stay the same."

Mr. Grove is one of 23 state lawmakers identified by Keystone Progress for their involvement with ALEC. All but one of the legislators identified are Republicans, and many hold caucus leadership roles or committee chairmanships.

The sole Democrat listed in the report, Rep. Harry Readshaw of Carrick, did not return a request for comment.

However, it's unclear whether all of those lawmakers have maintained their involvement with the organization. A spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, said the lawmaker is no longer involved with ALEC.

Keystone Progress says it will be digging for more information on who still is involved, and whether, like Mr. Grove, their dues are paid for by the House GOP caucus. The group will be filing requests under the Right-To-Know Law regarding House and Senate expenditures involving ALEC.


Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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