Monday, October 24, 2011

ALEC Says 'Jump' and GOP Obliges On Asbestos




The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC): don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them, most Americans haven’t. That’s because they conduct most of their operations in secret, many involving pushing “model” legislation with state lawmakers that directly benefits corporate bottom lines, usually at the expense of the rest of us. Now they’ve brought their show to Michigan. House Bill 4601 was taken up by the House Judiciary Committee last week - this legislation would place a cap on holding corporations accountable for producing poisonous asbestos. 
Does that sound a little obscure? It’s because it is - but certainly not unprecedented for this Legislature. This wouldn’t be the first time this year they considered legislation widely regarded as unnecessary - a knee-jerk response brought on by special interest lobbying. This time, the special interest is a single corporation lobbying for a specific exemption to directly benefit them. 
That corporation is Pennsylvania-based Crown Cork and Seal, who acquired a small company in 1963 without doing enough research to discover that this company had installed asbestos and was liable to pay out worker’s compensation for workers made sick by asbestos exposure - unless they convinced state lawmakers around the country to pick up the tab. The only people to speak in favor of this bill in the House Judiciary Committee were the company’s General Counsel and Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland), who sponsored the bill and said it shows that Michigan is “open for business.” 
Open for business, or an open invitation for corporate lobby groups to have their “model legislation” copied, pasted, and passed by the Michigan Legislature? Internal ALEC documents refer to liability for asbestos workers’ compensation as a “runaway train,” and argue it’s unfair for corporations to bear liability for companies they acquired. But adopting this legislation would be profoundly unfair - not only does it create a special exemption for one company, but it would push Michiganders suffering from asbestos poisoning into the state’s worker compensation system, Medicaid or Medicare, forcing Michigan taxpayers to assume all the risks for one out-of-state corporation failing to do sufficient research before approving a merger.
This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the political circus in Lansing this year. Once again, Republicans in the legislature prove they are far more concerned with currying favor from their lobbyist buddies than actually spending time on creating jobs or adopting real reforms that would ensure Michiganders get more value for their tax dollars.
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