For Saturday reading: USA Today and the Center for Public Integrity on the rise in cookie-cutter legislation — “model bills” developed by special interest groups dropped around the country to push agendas in the states.
A two-year investigation by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity reveals for the first time the extent to which special interests have infiltrated state legislatures using model legislation.USA TODAY and the Republic found at least 10,000 bills almost entirely copied from model legislation were introduced nationwide in the past eight years, and more than 2,100 of those bills were signed into law.
The investigation examined nearly 1 million bills in all 50 states and Congress using a computer algorithm developed to detect similarities in language. That search – powered by the equivalent of 150 computers that ran nonstop for months – compared known model legislation with bills introduced by lawmakers.
The phenomenon of copycat legislation is far larger. In a separate analysis, the Center for Public Integrity identified tens of thousands of bills with identical phrases, then traced the origins of that language in dozens of those bills across the country.
The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council and the Koch fortune (more or less the same interest groups) are highly influential in red states like Arkansas. Some liberal groups offer model legislation, too, but you won’t see much of it in Arkansas, except in popular petition campaigns that the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce is desperately trying to stamp out.
Model bills passed into law have made it harder for injured consumers to sue corporations. They’ve called for taxes on sugar-laden drinks. They’ve limited access to abortion and restricted the rights of protesters.
In all, these copycat bills amount to the nation’s largest, unreported special-interest campaign, driving agendas in every statehouse and touching nearly every area of public policy.
The bills often have deceptive titles, the better to gull voters. Think “term limits,” which the legislature is about to employ dishonestly for the second time in six years. Particularly popular in Arkansas is the tactic of state laws overriding local control — think guns and gay rights and building standards in Arkansas. Particularly popular is legislation to limit the ability to sue for damages or provide comfort to injured workers. Again, sound familiar?