ALICE, Throw ALEC Out

ALICE- The American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange – is an alternative to ALEC. It’s new, but may help push back against the conservative business backlash. Let’s hope so.

Nel's New Day

The corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been active for over four decades. Businesses pay for conservative federal and state legislators to take copy-ready bills to Congress and state legislatures. ALEC has been responsible for lax gun regulations—including the infamous “stand your ground” laws—as well as laws that roll back civil rights, pollution regulations, unions while privatizing public services which costs taxpayers far more money. Thanks to ALEC, schools, prisons, public transportation, and social and welfare services have been taken over by for-profit businesses that only help the private owners.

Since  I learned about ALEC, I have longed for a way to fight back. Lo and behold, there is one! Meet ALICE, The American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange, that also provides “model bills,” ones free to state and national legislatures.

During the Occupy Movement about two years ago, New York City Councilman Brad Lander met with Seattle Councilman Nick…

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ALEC and Preemption in Pennsylvania

Help Stop ALEC

Help Stop ALEC (Graphic courtesy of and permission to use by Keystone Progress)

Two days ago, the Guardian released some papers that were leaked from the August 2013 ALEC – American Legislative Exchange Council.  The initial papers that were leaked shows that ALEC is in financial trouble due to some of the mega-corporations having let their memberships lapse due to concerns over ALEC’s lobbying for “stand-your-ground” or “shoot-to-kill” laws and for suppressing voting rights, environmental protections.  Despite this run with the money, ALEC is continuing to push this right-wing agenda throughout the country and here in Pennsylvania.

ALEC’s Funding, Task Forces, and Agenda

Ninety-eight percent of ALEC’s funds come from corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations.  The remaining funds come from dues paid by conservative Republican legislators.  These funds are then used by the organization to craft so-called model legislation that the corporations believe will positively affect their bottom line.  This legislation is crafted within one of nine task forces.  According to ALEC-Exposed, “The organization boasts 2,000 legislative members and 300 or more corporate members. The unelected corporate representatives (often registered lobbyists) sit as equals with elected representatives on nine task forces where they have a “voice and a vote” on model legislation.” 

These task forces create state-level one-size fits all model bills that are designed to remove regulations on corporations.  Corporations have veto power over any bill that is crafted.  Legislator members are then indoctrinated at regular meetings of the organization (often paid for by ALEC “scholarships” or by the state travel budget for legislators). These legislators then return home and introduce these bills as their own.  Among the types of bills crafted within the task forces are bills to privatize education, limiting access to the voting booth through voter id laws, union-busting bills, and an anti-green agenda that, for example, penalizes homeowners who install solar energy.  One of ALEC’s newest targets is preempting local communities from adopting and enforcing their own laws on paid and unpaid sick days, a higher minimum wage and other workplace standards.

Pennsylvania Legislative Involvement in ALEC

Preemption and Who in the PA Legislature is a Member of ALEC

In Pennsylvania, there are currently 39 Republican state Representatives who are members of ALEC.  One of them is Representative Seth Grove (R-York).  He is a member of ALEC’s Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force, one of the committees that focuses on limiting local control through preemption bills.  Using ALEC and his membership, Representative Grove introduced a new preemption bill – HB 1807 – that preempts or prohibits county and municipal governments from adopting and enforcing their own laws on paid and unpaid sick days.  The bill specifically prohibits any local control over paid or unpaid leave of any type; it states:

A political subdivision in this Commonwealth may not enact or administer a mandate requiring an employer to provide an employee or class of employees with vacation or other forms of leave from employment, paid or unpaid, that is not required by Federal or State law, and may not require an employer to compensate an employee for any vacation or other forms of leave for which Federal or State law does not require the employee to be compensated.

The other co-sponsors include Representatives R. Lee James (R-Butler & Venango), Ryan P. Aument (R-Lancaster), Tina Pickett (R-Bradford, Sullivan, & Susquehanna), Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), Mindy Fee (R-Lancaster), RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon), Stephen Barrar (R-Chester & Delaware), Ron Miller (R-York), Susan Helm (R-Dauphin), Will Tallman (R-Adams & York), Kurt Masser (R-Columbia, Montour, and Northumberland), Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks), Duane Milne (R-Chester), Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) and Gordon Denlinger (R-Lancaster).  Five—Barrer, Helm, Marsico, Pickett, and  Ron Miller—of  these sixteen co-sponsors are also members of ALEC.

Status of this Preemption Bill

The bill was introduced into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and referred to the House Labor and Industry Committee on October 23, 2013 on which Representatives Grove and Aument  sit.    It immediately became one of the fastest moving bills in the legislature. On November 18, this committee amended the bill to grandfather local communities that have already passed a preemption ordinance prior to January 1, 2014 and then passed the bill out of committee along party lines (15-9).  It immediately came up and passed under first consideration and is now set for second consideration where amendments may be offered.

As of today, the House has announced that they are at least temporarily tabling the bill.  Supporters however are saying that they will pass the bill out of the house by the end of the year.    So we need to keep up the pressure and tell our legislators to vote NO on HB 1807.  The following are some talking points you can use when writing or calling your Representative.

Talking Points

The following talking points were created by a coalition of organizations in Pennsylvania concerned about this preemption bill.

  • Across the country, grassroots efforts to enact paid sick days, higher minimum wages and other common sense workplace reforms are gaining momentum. These policies improve the lives of working men and women, their families, communities and local economies.
  •  To stop this progress, corporate lobbyists and the state legislators they control have quietly begun to enact dangerous and undemocratic “preemption” laws.
  •  Preemption” laws passed at the state level prohibit cities and counties within that state from adopting their own laws on paid sick days, a higher minimum wage and other workplace standards.
  •  Laws that preempt local decision-making strip cities and counties of their right to adopt policies that will benefit their communities, in violation of core conservative and democratic principles.
  •  Preemption has been a nationally coordinated, go-to strategy of special interest lobbyists for years, used to undermine and eviscerate smoking bans, nutrition labeling laws and other food safety measures, and gun violence prevention measures. Now this strategy is being used by the National Restaurant Association and the corporate group ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, to target modern economic policies that help working people and their families.
  •  ALEC is the industry-backed organization responsible for “stand-your-ground” or “shoot-to-kill” laws and for suppressing voting rights, environmental protections and more. It is comprised of both lobbyists for multi-million dollar corporations and legislators who are aligned with and take contributions from those corporations.
  •  Preemption is yet another way that ALEC is attempting to “steal” democracy from voters. In addition to trying to control who gets to vote, ALEC also wants to control what citizens can vote on.
  •  Instead of fighting grassroots paid sick days and minimum wage efforts city by city, corporate lobbyists are working with their legislator allies in the state capitals, where they have more influence, to keep local governments from doing what’s best for their people and communities. In fact, they’re pushing paid sick days preemption law in states that don’t even have any municipal efforts to pass the measure – just to head off grassroots momentum before it starts.
  •  Nine states have already passed paid sick days preemption laws – Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Wisconsin. And the opposition is getting more aggressive: Six of these nine laws were passed in 2013. A tenth state – North Carolina – has passed a narrower preemption bill that affects state contractors. Bills are pending in at least six other states – with more expected in 2014. It’s obvious that they’re being coordinated on a national level.
  •  Local innovation is the lifeblood of progress. Preemption efforts, driven by special interests, should not stand in the way of local innovation or self-rule, which historically has paved the way for meaningful statewide and then federal action on minimum wage, family leave and other issues. Bills like this represent an ominous attempt to remove power from locally elected officials and make the voters mere bystanders in the democratic processes that define the character of their communities.
  •  Strong statewide earned sick days and minimum wage standards are preferable, but in the absence of statewide policies, localities must have the freedom to do what’s best for their people and communities. Millions of workers without paid sick days are too often forced into going to work sick, sending sick kids to school, putting off needed health care, or losing pay and even their jobs if they stay home. Local lawmakers are increasingly recognizing that paid sick days policies are both an economic and a public health imperative, and are learning from the positive experiences with paid sick days standards in San Francisco, Seattle and Connecticut.
  •  Even if preemption bills seem to have a narrow focus, passage of this type of legislation could result in preemption of a wide range of local ordinances, whether passed through voter referendum or by city councils, in municipalities throughout the state. These include efforts to expand protections for those who have experienced domestic violence, laws prohibiting wage theft, consumer protection initiatives, and many more. Corporate lobbyists don’t want any regulations standing in the way of their profits.

What You Can Do to Stop This Bill

We need to have members of the House of Representatives called to tell them to vote NO on this bill.  Keystone Progress has set up a call-in page for us to use. Let’s start getting calls in to legislators right now! Once you make your call, please forward this email to your constituents, members, friends, family – anyone who can make a call. Here’s the contact call page:

You can also tweet about this – here are a few Sample Tweets:

  • PA’s House Labor Cmmte just passed a bill taking local control from YOUR local officials. Tell them what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • Stop corporate vetoes on our local laws: call your legislators now! http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe #paidsickdays
  • ALEC attempting to preempt local control of paid and unpaid sick leave in PA. Tell #PALegis what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • ALEC attempting to preempt local control of paid and unpaid sick leave in PA. Tell @PAGOP what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • #Preemption is another way that ALEC is attempting to “steal” democracy from voters. Tell @PAGOP what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • #Preemption is another way that ALEC is attempting to “steal” democracy from voters. Tell #PALegis what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • #Preemption bill threatens local efforts to assist Domestic Violence survivors. Call your legislators now! http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe

You can also let your friends, family, and neighbors know about this corporate threat to local control by talking, emailing, using social media, and/or forwarding this blog on to them. There are several links at the bottom of this blog: choose what works for you.

And thanks!

How Much Pay has Congress Made Since They Shut Down the Government?

While over 800,000 federal employees were sent home without pay on October 1 when Congress failed to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government, members of Congress still continue to receive their salary.  I just came across a graphic that shows, in real-time, how much all 535 members of Congress – the 435 members of the House of Representatives and the 100 members of the Senate – have earned since the day Congress shut down most of the federal government programs.

Take a look via CongressStillGetsPaid.com.

Congress, this is outrageous.  Get the federal government back to work.  Rather than attempting to end Obamacare and/or cutting Social Security – both detrimental to a huge swath of the American public – JUST PASS A CLEAN CONTINUING RESOLUTION!

Pennsylvania’s Proposed Women’s Health Agenda

Kate Michelman

Kate Michelman discussing strategy with women’s health care advocates and members of the General Assembly Health Care Agenda Caucus.

Yesterday (Monday, September 30, 2013), I attended a two-hour meeting with Pennsylvania’s House and Senate members of the joint Women’s Health Agenda Caucus led by Representative Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh. Some of the advocacy groups attending the meeting included the Women’s Law Project (WLP), Women Vote PA, and members of the Pennsylvanians for Choice coalition including Pennsylvania NOW whom I represented.

For a very long time Pennsylvania has focused on restricting women’s access to abortion services – currently accounting for over 1270 pages of legislation and regulations in the state.  This wrong-headed approach to health assumes that women’s sole need is to protect them from safe, legal access to decent abortion care services.  In other words, the state has wrong-headedly been crafting laws and regulations to deny access to abortion, sending more and more women to the back alleys similar to the Gosnell clinic and ignoring the broader issues of women’s health equity.

Women’s concerns about their health are broadly based in bias based on gender. Terry L. Fromson, Amal Bass, Carol E. Tracy, Susan Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project  created a report entitled Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women in 2012.  The WLP is Pennsylvania’s feminist legal organization that engages in litigation, advocacy, and education to ensure women’s equality and treatment in Pennsylvania. This report set the context for yesterday’s meeting.  The WLP framed the health care agenda as follows in this report and in the meeting this morning:

The legal and social status of American women has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Half a century ago, it was legal to segregate jobs by sex, to refuse to hire or promote on the basis of a person’s sex, to fire women who became pregnant, and to limit the number of women admitted to professional schools such as law and medicine. Sexual and domestic violence were hidden from public view and public policy. Abortion was illegal and the birth control pill was not yet on the market. Today, women have taken their place in the working world and educational opportunities for women have expanded exponentially. Sexual and domestic violence are recognized as crimes and some resources are available to its victims. Abortion is legal and birth control is available.

Despite these advances, deeply embedded cultural biases and stereotypes about women’s place in society continue to impede women’s equal participation in society. In our homes and communities women are subjected to violence, poverty, and the burden of care taking responsibilities. In the workplace, women are paid less than men for the same work, remain concentrated in stereotypically female low-paying occupations, are subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and care giving, and are denied advancement to managerial and higher paying positions. In school, young women are denied their fair share of sports opportunities and are sexually harassed and violated. Women are denied essential reproductive health care and subjected to discrimination in access to insurance coverage. Women pay more than men for the same coverage, and pregnancy is a preexisting condition that often denies pregnant women access to insurance coverage and therefore maternity care.  Access to abortion has been limited by burdensome legislative requirements, and providers and patients have been terrorized by an increasingly violent opposition. Attacks on access to contraceptive services have grown.

While many laws have been adopted to eliminate sex discrimination at work and at school, gaps persist that must be filled and enforcement needs to be strengthened. This is particularly true in Pennsylvania. While some Pennsylvania cities have outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of care-giving responsibilities and provide other accommodations for women who work, the Pennsylvania legislature has failed to adopt a statewide prohibition on discrimination on the basis of caregiver status or to provide family leave for caregivers. In Pennsylvania, the law permits insurers to price the cost of health insurance higher for women than for men, resulting in women paying more for individual health insurance policies and small employers paying more for health insurance for a predominantly female workforce. Pennsylvania’s sexual assault laws have for the most part eliminated discriminatory provisions, but the myths and stereotypes that continue to infect the criminal justice system hinder the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. The health care perspective on domestic violence and sexual assault is far too limited. Sexual assault is treated as a health care matter primarily in the immediate aftermath of a rape, even though the physical and emotional health consequences can be long lasting. Although a number of health care providers recognize that domestic violence is also a health issue, screening for domestic violence in health care settings is not universal. Poverty, which disproportionately impacts women, exacerbates the impact of sex bias in all of these realms….

Pennsylvania, with 6.5 million women, has consistently been found deficient in national studies on women’s health care measures. In their 2010 health report card, the National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health & Science University placed Pennsylvania 32 among the 50 states and graded it unsatisfactory with respect to the status of women’s health….

To alleviate women’s health problems, it is necessary to eliminate adverse experiences — discrimination and bias — early in life and throughout life — and to improve access to health care, with an emphasis on care essential to women (pp. x-xii).

Representative Frankel heard this call to refocus the legislature from attacking women’s reproductive health to focusing — just like New York state’s “10 Point Plan for Women’s Equality” — on redirecting legislation in the General Assembly towards a women’s health equity agenda. So yesterday, almost 20 legislators from both houses attended a meeting with advocates seeking to improve women’s lives and health through a broad review and revision of Pennsylvania law.  The agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

The ideas for change come from real-life stories of women in the state.  Calls to service agencies. Cries for help on hot lines. Requests for advocacy. And of course lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories.  The 24 suggested changes to Pennsylvania law that were presented are in areas where either no legislation has been introduced or where legislation to improve the bias are lagging or need to be revisited.  We, as advocates, understand that there are other areas of concern, but believe these health care agenda items are a good start.

Some of these ideas are conceptual at this point. Some have some preliminary model wording for new legislation, and some are already in the works.  Here’s the agenda:

Protect and Expand Women’s Reproductive Health Rights

  1. Pregnancy Accommodations:  Require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees with temporary pregnancy-related conditions to allow workers to remain employed throughout their pregnancies while imposing minimal burdens on employers.
  2. Support for Breastfeeding Mothers in the Workplace: Require all employers to provide compensated break time and a private, sanitary (not a bathroom) for all employees who need to express milk.
  3. Buffer Zones:  Enact a statewide reproductive health care clinic buffer zone statute to protect safe access to essential health care.
  4. Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable post-partum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any woman known to be pregnant.
  5. Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

    Improve Women’s Economic Security

  6. TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) Grant Amount: Increase TANF cash assistance grant levels.
  7. TANF Asset Limit: Increase the TANF eligibility asset limit to encourage saving and financial independence.
  8. Earned Income Disregard: Increase the earned income disregard and apply it to applicants as well as recipients.  FYI, the earned income disregard allows very-low income workers to continue receiving TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid if they make 50% or less of the poverty level.  This proposed legislation would raise this “disregard” level to 75% and would apply to applicants as well as recipients.
  9. Childcare Works Waiting List: Eliminate the childcare works waiting list.
  10. TANF Pre-Application Job Search: Eliminate or modify the TANF pre-application job search requirements.
  11. Minimum Wage: Increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00/hour.
  12. Gender Wage Gap: Strengthen Pennsylvania law to eliminate the 24% gender wage gap by prohibiting retaliation against employees for discussing wages (“pay secrecy”) and closing the “factor other than sex” defense to apply only to bona fide business-related factors.
  13. Family Responsibilities Employment Discrimination: Prohibit family responsibilities discrimination in employment by amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit family status discrimination in employment pursuant to an expanded definition of familial status to encompass the true scope of familial responsibilities shouldered by employees.
  14. Paid Family and Sick Leave: Require all employers to provide employees with paid family and sick leave
  15. Spousal Pension Benefits: Require spousal consent when a retiring state employee chooses how his or her pension benefits should be paid consistent with federal law protecting each spouse from his or her spouse’s selection of a pension benefit in all privately-sponsored pension plans and laws adopted by other states.
  16. Domestic Worker Protection: Amend Pennsylvania anti-discrimination laws to provide domestic workers protection from employment discrimination
  17. Sexual Harassment: Extend the prohibition on sexual harassment in employment to all employers, even small employers.

    Protect Women’s Personal Safety

  18. Paid Leave for Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Victims: Require employers to provide paid leave to obtain assistance for and pursue legal protection against domestic and sexual violence and stalking.
  19. Housing Discrimination: Prohibit private and public housing discrimination against domestic violence victims.
  20. Civil Orders of Protection for Sexual Violence and Stalking Victims: Authorize courts to issue civil orders of protection for sex crime and stalking victims.
  21. Absolute Privilege for Student Victims: Protect victims/witnesses of sexual assault who testify in school grievance proceedings from being sued by their harassers.
  22. Human Trafficking: Strengthen Pennsylvania’s criminal statute on human trafficking.
  23. Veterans’ Real Estate Tax Exemption: Amend Pennsylvania law to provide veterans real estate tax exemption for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to sexual victimization during service and appoint women representatives to the House and Senate Committees on Veteran Affairs and to the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission.
  24. Voting Reform: Reform voting rules to provide online registration, same day in person registration, early voting, including early in person voting on weekends.

These ideas will be discussed in continuing meetings between members of the General Assembly’s Health Care Agenda Caucus and advocates for women’s equality.  I’ll post more on these issues as this legislative program becomes better defined.

Corporations’ Excessive Tax Breaks

This is a great report on how corporations avoid paying their fair share of taxes!

If we can also overturn Citizen’s United and gerrymandering, then I believe part of the issues raised here could be dealt with. If corporations are no longer treated as “people,” they would no longer be able outspend real live people in electing and talking to our representatives.  We’ll still have to deal with their paid lobbyists, but at least we can reduce their influence to some extent on who is elected in our own back yards.

Nel's New Day

While you faithfully paid your taxes by yesterday, 26 major American corporations that made $205 billion in pretax profits paid nothing in federal corporate income tax between 2008 and 2011. In 2011 corporations paid a 12.1 percent effective tax rate, the lowest in four decades. Corporations want to have the same rights as “persons,” but real persons can’t have the tax advantages of corporations.

Corporations get tax breaks when they…

Break the law: BP’s toxic mess in the Gulf of Mexico or Wells Fargo’s abusive lending practices that cost tens of thousands American families their homes were fully deductible.

Fall on hard times: When corporations lose money, they can use these losses not only to fully offset taxes for that year but also carry those losses into the future for up to seven years.

Face no income threshold: After Superstorm Sandy devastated millions of American families, they picked up the…

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This blog today by Erin Matson focuses, like my blog today, on pay equity and the Paycheck Fairness Act.  These are just some of the several issues we are both passionate about. In addition to providing another perspective on paycheck fairness, she also goes into some detail about introducing yourself to and talking to members of Congress. As this is part of my recommendations in the blog I just wrote and posted, I decided to reblog her so that you have more information to help successfully advocate for pay equity and civil rights for all.

Erin Matson

This is the first in what will be a regular series, Your Activism Guide, designed to make feminist activism more accessible and help you take the power you deserve. 

Purpose: Introduce yourself to your members of Congress.

Process: Set up meetings now to drop by local offices (even if you don’t have a specific request, even if the legislator tends to vote against your interests).

Payoff: Existing relationships can bring the most unexpected of benefits.

A few days ago, the American Association of University Women and National Women’s Law Center hosted a Tweet Chat to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reversed a Supreme Court decision that had effectively gutted the ability to sue for wage discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Joining the conversation to answer questions was Lilly Ledbetter herself.

This is a topic that gets me all hot…

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