Yesterday an article from the StarTribune (Minnesota) made the rounds in a lots of tweets about ALEC’s attempt to reduce product liability in Minnesota – specifically in the area of asbestos lawsuits.

This is another example of the  thousands of instances where the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a mover and a shaker for pro-corporate legislation that is detrimental to the citizens of the United States.

Before we go into the belly of the beast in regards to ALEC it is important for the reader to understand the full impact of asbestos-related illnesses as documented by Matthew  J. Chase

Asbestos cases are unique among other mass torts because of the high rate of exposure, the long latency period, and the variety and seriousness of illnesses associated with the substance—all of which require the legislature to take national action to solve this problem. Asbestos, when first discovered, was considered a miracle substance  

However, asbestos-related illnesses are unique because of the extremely long latency period of the diseases associated with exposure to asbestos. The latency period after the final exposure to asbestos can be as long as forty years before the person manifests any symptoms or discovers evidence of a potential injury,   ...

Some snips from the StarTribune story:

A national effort by an $8 billion can manufacturer to shield itself from costly asbestos lawsuits has reached the Minnesota Legislature, triggering criticism from victims' advocates, who say the campaign puts a single corporation's interests over people who have been harmed by the deadly material.

Philadelphia-based Crown Holdings Inc., which has three manufacturing plants in southern Minnesota, is seeking to change state law to prevent more asbestos claims stemming from a 1960s merger.

Crown has had about 150 asbestos cases in Minnesota in the past 15 years but only a couple in the past year, according to Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, lead sponsor of the bill. Crown Cork officials say a primary goal of the legislation is to help repair its reputation with Wall Street.

The company has been helped by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a business-friendly group that helps craft model legislation for use in legislatures across the country. Minnesota is one of five states considering the proposal this year.

The bill specifies 1972 because that's the period when the federal government started regulating asbestos as a health risk, said Mark Behrens, a Washington, D.C., attorney who has advised Crown and works with ALEC on tort reform.

It should be noted that Mike Parry is an ALEC member - who has been documented as ALEC Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force Member.

If you were to read this in Minnesota and not go any further than that you would not know that more information regarding ALEC and asbestos-related issues was reported here on Daily Kos - by Kossack ManfromMiddletown which included this snip that ties back to the last paragraph of the StarTribune article:

In January of 2009, Mark Behrens and Corey Schaecher show up in Bismarck. At the time both worked for Shook, Hardy, and Bacon a Washington, DC law firm representing Crown Cork and Seal, Co.  a firm with a potentially large exposure to asbestos claims.  On January 15th, two pieces of ALEC model legislation dealing with these types of claims are introduced as bills in the legislature.  Behrens and Schaecher showed up on the 12th to shepherd the bills, but don't even bother registering as lobbyist until the 23rd.
But – this still - is not the whole story – the history of asbestos related legislation and ALEC can be traced back to this ALEC press release in 2005.
Sandy Liddy Bourne, the Director of Legislation and Policy for ALEC, said  “We have model  legislation which has been enacted in Ohio, Texas, Florida, and Georgia that  addresses the asbestos litigation crisis in an effective manner which assures  that the real victims of asbestos exposure are compensated."  ALEC prefers state-level action on this matter.” SOURCE  American Legislative Exchange Council
So as of this point - we have Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, Florida, and Georgia  - but it does not end there.

In addition you have this information that was documented in Pennsylvania in 2005, when their state legislature was attempting to pass similar legislation (PLEASE look at the links for personal stories)

The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act was narrowly voted out of the Judiciary Committee on July 10 by a partisan vote of 10-8. The following PDFs are available for your review:

Partying in the Streets (PDF) - companies that have used asbestos in the past make no bones about it: they want to eliminate their responsibility.  
Ignored Settlements (PDF) - S.1125 wipes out settlements that corporations have already agreed to pay.  
Eliminate the Jury (PDF) - companies assert: if a worker has had a good life, why not die from asbestos exposure?  
Compensation (PDF) - S.1125 will let companies escape responsibility for less money than they pay their CEO's each year.

Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania , Ohio, Texas, Florida, and Georgia
Just last week there was this entry that brings this issue into an even  larger perspective
Miller says that ALEC, a “corporate-backed, conservative non-profit” has succeeded in winning legislative protections (for corporations) in a number of states, including Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The next domino ALEC hopes will fall is the state of Idaho, since the measure is currently awaiting a hearing in the Idaho House.

ALEC, through "friendly" state legislators, has attempted to get a similar bill passed in Virginia in the recent past, with no success as of yet. Hopefully, the Virginia State Legislature will continue to protect its citizens, and not grant a special favor for a well-connected corporation. This writer suggests that Idaho do the same.

Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming

And today Kossack Solon shared  this information which has both a historical and current relevancy to it.

House Bill 4601 (2011)
Sponsor:  State Rep. Joe Haverman
(Not yet ALEC Member close associate of Kuipers)
Note: Havemen (R) is also putting restrictions on food stamps for 'college students' but revises requirements for all applicants. Clever. Suspected Campaign for Liberty contribution recipetant
Committee:  Judiciary
(summary) Complete to 10-19-11

House Bill 5167 (2009-2010)
Sponsors: Primary Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing) AND Tonya Schuitmaker(R) (ALEC MI State Chair)
Committee: Judiciary
Complete to 10-13-09

Senate Bill 591 (Substitute S-3) (2007-2008)
Sponsor: State Sen Wayne Kuipers (was term-limited, confirmed ALEC member and still all-around troublemaker)
Committee: Judiciary
Passed by the GOP Senate
Data Sumbmitted: June 2007
Date Completed: 8-13-08
Kuipers referenced ALEC in his publically accessable submissions.
(Was a part of the First MI ALEC investigation)

Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming

Further documentation of ALEC’s push for asbestos-related “model legislation” at the state level  can be found in this snip as reported by People for the American Way:

ALEC was influential in crafting and passing a Texas law, dubbed the “Successor Asbestos-Related Liability Fairness Act, that shielded Crown Cork and Seal, a business that in 1966 acquired a company that used asbestos in its products, from lawsuits from the company’s workers. Even though Crown agreed to pay the company’s liabilities, it wanted immunity from paying damages to workers facing asbestos-related diseases. Crown Cork and Seal turned to ALEC to help shape the Texas law, which put an extremely low cap on liability for companies like Crown who acquired companies which committed wrongdoing, known as a “successor immunity” law.” Mark Behrens, an attorney for Shook Hardy, worked as a lobbyist for both ALEC and Crown to encourage allied lawmakers to introduce and pass the bill. The American Association for Justice writes that “this so-called ‘successor immunity’ has all the hallmarks of an ALEC special interest bill. It is plainly designed not with public policy in mind, but rather a specific industry (or in this case, a specific company).” The Texas Supreme Court ultimately found the cap to be an unconstitutional retroactive protection for Crown that inhibited the rights of people to rightfully sue corporations for damages, but similar ALEC-derived laws are still on the books in other states.
Or this additional information that can be found in an ALEC report that was released by The American Association for Justice:
Under the law, Crown had indeed willfully bought Mundet with knowledge of the future asbestos claims. And although Crown Cork assumed responsibility for future liabilities when it purchased Mundet Cork, it decided to ask state legislatures to allow it to renege on its contractual obligation by changing the law itself. That is where ALEC came in. If you cannot win on a level playing field, ALEC can tip the field. In this case, ALEC began a campaign to persuade state legislatures to cap the liability companies face when they acquire the assets of another company  

Through its special-interest panels, ALEC persuaded legislators in several states to do Crown’s bidding. Legislation providing Crown with immunity was enacted in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. Similar legislation was introduced in several states including Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

And during all this time -  the following paragraph documents the INJUSTICE of the whole situation (also from the report noted above - by The American Association for Justice).
In 1963, when Crown bought Mundet, gas was 29 cents a gallon, and the average cost of a new home was less than $13,000. In 1963, Crown’s profits were $4.9 million, but by 2008 their profits had grown by more than 24,000 percent to $1.2 billion.31 Just as the cost of gas has increased, so has the value of assets acquired. But the bill capped them at their low 1963 value.  
So, based on the history of ALEC and asbestos-related injuries.
And based on the astronomical profit being reported by Crown.
AND based on the close relationships that ALEC and Crown have had over the years...

It would only make sense to ask –
“What is ALEC gaining from all this?”
“Since it is not possible at this time to link ALEC and Crown – why is ALEC repeatedly doing this for Crown?”

I can't imagine that ALEC's actions are altruistic in nature - so then the next set of questions could be something like this:
“What type of remuneration is ALEC receiving from Crown?”
“Are ALEC legislators who bring asbestos related “model legislation” forward in each state receiving a little somethin’, somethin’ for their dedication and work ethic?”

And the final questions
When are we going to make this stop?
How long will we allow ALEC to introduce legislation that provides protections for corporate profits at the expense of the US citizenry?
When will we say - "Enough is Enough?"

Make sure that ALEC members are not elected or re-elected during the upcoming election cycles.  
Boots to the ground for the candidates running against ALEC members.
Money into the warchests of candidates running against ALEC members.
We must remove this scourge from our political arena.

Originally posted to MNDem999 on Thu Feb 16, 2012 at 10:50 AM PST.

Also republished by American Legislative Transparency Project.

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