What You Might Want to Know About ALEC and How it Could Affect Your Center

by Michele Martin on August 5, 2011

ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is a tax exempt nonprofit organization where state legislators and representatives of major corporations draft model state legislation. Regardless of where you come down on the political spectrum, you may well have reasons to be concerned about what ALEC does and how its members go about ALEC’s business, especially where its work intersects with health care and Medicaid. And, as advocates and lobbyists, centers may be forced to adopt similar tactics to advance-even to preserve-the programs that support community living for so many of those served by centers.

ALEC Exposed

The activities of ALEC were recently highlighted on The Center for Media and Democracy’s Alec Exposed Website and in an article by John Nichols in The Nation magazine.

Nichols discussed ALEC on the NPR Fresh Air interview program How Alec Shapes State Politics Behind the Scenes on July 21. He noted ALEC focuses on lower taxes, less regulation, tort reform, vouchers and privatization programs in public education, privatization of prisons, and several areas of health care. Many of the laws drafted by the business representatives and legislators who are ALEC members go on to become state laws.

“that’s cool, let’s make that our model legislation”

Legislators and businesses sit on ALEC committees, according to Nichols, and each group is represented equally. Every model bill comes from these committees and nothing goes forward unless business agrees. In fact, most of the drafting is done by business. The legislators don’t have a lot of technical expertise in the areas ALEC deals with, notably health care, and “…they come to these tables in Washington or in some very fancy hotel on some island, and the corporate representatives say, ‘well, here’s a good idea.’ And more often than not, it appears when you look through all the documents, that the legislators say: ‘that’s cool, let’s make that our model legislation.’ And then that legislation or some variation on it then goes back into the states, carried by the legislators.”

ALEC Responds

In a separate segment of the NPR program, National Chairman Of ALEC Responds To Report, Noble Ellington, a Republican member of the Louisiana State Legislature and ALEC’s chair, responded to the point that business members of ALEC could veto any draft bill by saying, “They may can in the – when the bills are being discussed in the taskforce.”

When pressed, he said, “You’re probably asking me something a little more technical than I am prepared to answer” . . . “ Ellington said business needed to be involved in drafting legislation “ . . . partly because they’re one of the ones who will be affected by it.” When the interviewer commented the taxpaying public isn’t at the table when ALEC drafts laws, Ellington responded, “I work for the taxpaying public. So don’t assume that they’re not, because they are. And we represent the public and we are the ones who decide. So the taxpaying public is represented there at the table because I’m there.”

Why is All This Important?

ALEC’s approach seems to concentrate a lot of power with one group, but even so, why is this important to CILs? Much of the funding for home and community based services comes through Medicaid funded initiatives of the federal government: Medicaid waivers; state plan options; the money follows the person initiative, and more. To receive Medicaid, states must provide matching funds. With tight budgets and a groundswell of sentiment to reduce taxes, states are grappling with how they’ll fund Medicaid match. And, many are pushing for laws that could ultimately have a lot to do with who receives services and what level of service they receive.

“Flexibility is basically a code word for abandonment”

Several states, notably the trifecta states where the governor and both houses of the legislature are from the same party, have already made sweeping changes. The programs that support community living for people with disabilities are not only at risk from the federal budget reductions in the offing, they are also targets for state legislatures wanting to chop away at Medicaid-funded programs. For some ideas of how they might go about it, review some of the ALEC model legislation at the ALEC Exposed health care page. One of the items featured is resolution language for block granting Medicaid to states. “Medicaid block grants are unlikely to provide adequate funds for states to meet growing Medicaid costs, particularly for persons with disabilities who rely on Medicaid for day-to-day life,” the site authors state. They add, “While supporters say block grants give states "more flexibility," disability rights activists say ‘that’s like saying Jim Crow laws give states more flexibility to decide who gets to drink at their drinking fountains. Flexibility is basically a code word for abandonment.’" (The ALEC Exposed authors were referencing a quote from activist Michael Ervin that was featured in a blog entry by Debbie Siegelbaum of the Center for Disability Rights, Inc.

What Happens to Center Opportunities in This Climate?

Any new personal assistance programs would likely be funded through Medicaid. (In several years, the Class Act insurance program would also offer opportunities for centers, if that part of health care reform law isn’t slashed by Congress in the months to come.) Home and community-based services remain optional Medicaid services not mandated by the federal government. Personal assistance services are funded through personal care option language in Medicaid state plans and through Medicaid waivers secured from the federal government. As optional services, personal assistance and other community‑based services are likely targets in the coming budget battles

What’s Going on at Your Statehouse?

This blog and ILRU’s New Community Opportunities Center focus on new initiatives in centers. One of the target opportunities for centers is personal assistance. Funding for these programs is very much in jeopardy, especially at the state level. Whether model laws come from ALEC or legislators think them up on their own, any center would be wise to track what’s going on at your statehouse. It would be great if centers would share not only how you’re tracking what’s going on, but also what kind of bills are in the pipeline in your state. Just leave a comment below.

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