A national organization criticized recently for churning out prewritten bills to state legislatures across the country has been a platform for some of the more controversial laws passed in Oklahoma in recent years.
“Model legislation” developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council or shared through conferences the council has hosted, played a part in a 2006 “Stand Your Ground” law that allows Oklahomans to use deadly force when threatened in public places, a 2010 resolution that prohibits any law from compelling a person to purchase health care and a state question that same year that requires voters to show an identification card before receiving a ballot.
Several laws under consideration now — including bills that allow for covenant marriages, that would challenge the teaching of global warming and evolution in public schools and that would reject key provisions of the new federal health care law — have identical versions that have either been passed or are also under consideration in GOP-led legislatures elsewhere.
“That's somebody out of state telling Oklahoma how we want our laws enacted and what we want,” said Richard Lerblance, a former Democratic Senator from Hartshorne. “It's not necessarily coming from the people in Oklahoma; it's coming from out of state.”
The council was among several national groups that advised Gov. Mary Fallin in 2011 to resist development of a state health insurance exchange, a primary tenet of the new federal health care law.
Other “model legislation” made available through the council, according to its website, includes ones that would reduce personal income taxes for residents — a top legislative priority this year for Fallin as well as the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives.
The authors of all seven bills filed to reduce the personal income tax said they were not influenced by the legislative exchange council also known as ALEC in drafting the bill language.
“As the author of most tax cut bills we had last year, I didn't have one meeting with ALEC,” said Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond. “My bills are my bills.”
A spokesman for the council was unable on Friday to provide a directory of Oklahoma lawmakers who currently pay membership dues, but directories from previous years indicate at least 25 state lawmakers, mostly Republican, have participated in previous conferences.
Gov. Mary Fallin was chosen as the council's “Legislator of the Year” in 1993, when she represented Oklahoma in the U.S. House of Representatives. The council will host its spring summit in Oklahoma City this May.
Emails provided to The Oklahoman earlier this month indicate a policy adviser for the council offered assistance to the state's Insurance Department in scrapping plans for a health exchange in 2011, but Fallin's spokesman, Alex Weintz, said the organization played no role in her decision to return $54 million in federal grants earmarked for exchange development.
“ALEC is a conservative organization, and Gov. Fallin is a conservative governor, so it is possible there is overlap in their agendas,” Weintz said. “Gov. Fallin's agenda was drafted without the help or input of ALEC.”
Oklahoma lawmakers who participate in council functions, and who sign their name to bills promoted by the council, said it's a common way for states to share resources and experiences.