Did Idaho see copycat legislative bills?

Phrases such as 'ag-gag bill,' 'guns on campus' and 'religious freedom' were making the rounds.

(TWIN FALLS) TIMES-NEWSApril 2, 2014 

When Idaho lawmakers began pushing some of the 2014 Legislature's most contentious bills, people began to notice resemblances.

Similar bills were in some stage of the legislative process in statehouses in Arizona, Kansas and Utah.

Finding the root bill that sparked the copycats can be tricky. For example, critics of Idaho's ag-gag law - it has banned any secretive filming, including of abuse, at dairies and ranches - noted that the American Legislative Exchange Council was behind it.

The council brings corporate representatives and legislators together to draft what ALEC calls "model legislation." Member lawmakers may bring such legislation to their home states, tweak it to meet state statutes and push to pass it into law.

ALEC has been behind such controversial laws as Florida's Stand Your Ground statute, which allows people to use force rather than retreat when they feel threatened.

In 2002, ALEC introduced the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which labeled as terrorists any people who interfered with animal operations and made it illegal to record animal facilities without the owner's permission.

Since then, Indiana and Utah have adopted laws with language similar to that in ALEC's model bill.

In Idaho, Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, described the animal-rights activists opposing his ag-gag bill as "terrorists." But Patrick said SB1337 wasn't inspired by ALEC. He said he worked with agricultural producers and the dairy industry to craft the Idaho bill.

Patrick serves as ALEC's Idaho state chairman with two other lawmakers. But he said he has been an on-again, off-again active member of ALEC in recent years.

In 2012, he brought ALEC-inspired legislation on asbestos liability, which excused businesses of liability if they acquired companies that previously produced asbestos.

Last year, Patrick said, he didn't renew his ALEC membership, but he's now an active member. He gets a few council newsletters but said he hasn't attended a recent meeting.

"Nothing came from ALEC," Patrick said. "I know we were accused of that, but ours is different."

He said he knew other states had similar laws but wanted to introduce one that would protect agricultural facilities.

"Other states will want to copy ours," he said.

Copying sections of law is not only common, but also sometimes considered virtuous, said Mike Nugent, manager of the Research and Legislation Division of Idaho Legislative Services.

For example, when state Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, introduced two bills that sought to protect religious freedom, the wording was copied directly from legislation introduced in Arizona, Nugent said.

"You don't totally have to reinvent the wheel," he said. "You don't have to start from scratch if pieces of legislation are shown to work in other states."

Luker's bills would have allowed business owners to cite religious reasons to refuse service to gay people and single mothers. He eventually withdrew the bills.

Arizona's version passed in both chambers but was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

"There's not a conspiracy," Nugent said. "I think it was a legitimate effort."

ALEC members sometimes request copies of statutes Idaho has passed, Nugent said. ALEC once drafted model legislation based on Idaho's Hazardous Waste Facility Siting Act.

"It goes full circle," he said.

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