Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
This week Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton vetoed four “tort reform” bills passed recently by the state legislature. Governor Dayton also issued a stinging reprimand to the politicians responsible for the bills.
“These bills are laughably referred to as ‘jobs bills,’” the governor told reporters. ” Well, calling a crow a swan doesn’t make it one.” The bills would have had negligible impact on job creation in Minnesota, he continued. “The real impact would be to reduce the right of law-abiding citizens and businesses to seek justice from the wrong doing of others.”
The governor held up a copy of a booklet he called a “boot camp manual.” He said three of the four bills had been taken from the manual, published by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
What is ALEC? According to the New York Times, ALEC is an organization supported by millions of dollars from corporations like Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries, and ALEC’s board members come from many of the largest corporations. Its purpose is to get state legislatures to pass laws favorable to their business interests.
To that end, ALEC produces “template” legislation for lawmakers to introduce in their states. A recent study in Virginia found that more than 50 ALEC bills have been introduced in that state alone. Many of these bills are taken word-for-word from ALEC publications.
ALEC also holds seminars for legislators to coach them in “selling” the bills to the folks back home. Minnesota legislators had recently been treated to an all-expenses-paid “policy conference” at a posh Florida hotel.
“I’ve found that Minnesotans do not want their laws written by the lobbyists of big corporations,” Gov. Dayton said.
The bills would have changed the way corporations may be sued for personal injury and gutted many consumer protection laws. “Tort reform” bills protect corporations from lawsuits at the expense of people they or their products have injured.
The “tort reform” movement was initiated several years ago by tobacco companies and asbestos manufacturers. The companies were being sued by people suffering from mesothelioma and other lung cancers.
Now many other industries have signed on as well, and the corporations pour millions of dollars into “advocacy” groups like ALEC and the American Tort Reform Association to get laws written for their benefit.
Governor Dayton said lawmakers are putting ALEC’s interests ahead of the interests of Minnesota.
“Since these Republican bills so closely follow ALEC’s instructions on tort reform and since ALEC’s opinion on these subjects are evidently more important to Republican legislators than mine , their fellow DFL [Democratic-Farmer-Labor] legislators or the Minnesota Supreme Court’s, perhaps they would share with us all of the other ALEC boot camp manuals so we can know in advance what to expect from them for the rest of the session.
“If Republicans want to continue to prove to Minnesotans that they are too extreme to lead they should continue to throw ALEC’s ideology at us.
“If they want to begin to govern responsibly and work collaboratively, pass real jobs legislation, and my three measures have not even been taken up, real jobs legislation that will put Minnesotans back to work, then I’m ready to work with them.
“And I’m waiting.”