Wednesday, 18 April 2012

ALEC Drops Task Force Pushing "Stand Your Ground" Laws

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The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization that advocates "model legislation" for legislatures across the country, announced Tuesday that it is disbanding the task force that has promoted the "Stand Your Ground" self-defense laws and voter ID and immigration bills, among others. The announcement, released as a statement by ALEC Chairman David Frizzell, said the move was an effort to "refocus" the group's efforts on free-market issues of economic growth. It made no mention of the threat of boycotts against several of its corporate sponsors by groups opposed to those legislative initiatives. A number of contributors, including McDonald's, Wendy's, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Kraft Foods, have in recent weeks announced they would no longer be funding the organization. The ALEC announcement follows weeks of controversy generated by a national media that is largely unsympathetic to "Stand Your Ground" laws after Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, was shot to death in a gated community in Florida. The shooter, a neighborhood watch patrolman, claimed Martin attacked him. Reports soon followed of a grass roots campaign to pressure companies to stop contributing to ALEC.

"We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles, and have made changes internally to reflect this renewed focus," said Frizzell, a state representative from Indiana. "We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy. The remaining budgetary and economic issues will be reassigned."

"While we recognize there are other critical, non-economic issues that are vitally important to millions of Americans, we believe we must concentrate on initiatives that spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work," said Frizzell.

Civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, the Urban League and Color of Change, joined forces with Common Cause and People for the American Way in putting pressure on the corporations to drop their ALEC funding. Critics of the conservative group have objected to its "meddling" in the lawmaking decisions of state legislatures and for promoting laws to require proof of identification for voting, a measure some have called an effort to suppress voter turnout. The group has also drawn fire for promoting immigration laws like Arizona's, which authorizes state police to arrest illegal aliens. But the shooting of Martin became the galvanizing issue for opponents of the Stand Your Ground law, which was cited as a reason police did not arrest the shooter, George Zimmerman, for several weeks after the killing. Zimmerman turned himself in after a state special prosecutor obtained an indictment for second-degree murder.

While it is not clear what part, if any, the Stand Your Ground law will play in Zimmerman's trial, it has already produced an outcry more notable for its shrillness than its accuracy. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in announcing a national campaign to bring about repeal the legislation in Florida and the two dozen other states that have adopted it, has called it nothing less than "a license to murder."   

"It allows people to attack a perceived assailant if they believe they are in imminent danger, without having to retreat," said a New York Times editorial. Yet the Florida statute deals not with a "perceived assailant" or an "imminent danger," but with an attack. While the statute affirms the right to use deadly force to defend one's home against an unlawful intruder, it also states the right of self-defense in any public or private place a person under attack has a legal right to be. The law states:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

There is nothing there about a perception of a danger that may be "imminent." It speaks of someone who "is attacked." But the corporations, apparently eager to get out of an unwelcome spotlight, cut their ties to ALEC, which then decided it would be better to "refocus" on its priorities than lose more corporate donors. As Chairman Frizzell described it, it's a matter of getting back to basics.    

"Our free-market, limited government, pro-growth policies are the reason ALEC enjoys the support of legislators on both sides of the aisle and in all 50 states," his statement said. "ALEC members are interested in solutions that put the American economy back on track. This is our mission, and it is what distinguishes us."