Copy, Paste, Legislate

Published — April 4, 2019

Stand your ground, right to work and bathroom bills: 5 model bills that spark controversy

(Andrea Brunty/USA TODAY NETWORK, and Getty Images)

This story was published in partnership with USA TODAY and The Arizona Republic. 


State lawmakers across the USA introduce model bills each year favoring Republicans, Democrats and businesses. And despite the cross-country push for legislatures to adopt these cookie-cutter bills, not all attract local or national attention.

But some do, and they lead to boycotts, protests and public condemnation by celebrities and politicians alike.

Here are some well-known pieces of legislation that began as – or became – model bills:

Stand your ground

The “stand your ground law” was on the books in Florida for years before it became the lightning rod it is today. The death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American 17-year-old gunned down by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012, pulled the law into the mainstream overnight. When Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder, protests erupted. Activists held a month-long sit-in at the Florida Capitol in an effort to force legislators to overturn the law. It didn’t work. Now, Martin is a symbol of racial and criminal injustice to some, while conservatives and gun rights groups have embraced stand your ground, a model bill. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a limited-government organization, created its own legislation based on the Florida law, and the National Rifle Association also has promoted stand your ground bills at the state level. The measure or something similar is on the books in at least half of the states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Trayvon Martin in this undated file family photo. (Martin Family Photo via AP)

Bathroom bill

North Carolina repealing its infamous “bathroom bill” didn’t crush the idea of limiting people to bathrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. The state reversed course in the face of a massive potential economic blow after the NBA, the NCAA, Ringo Starr and Demi Lovato canceled or threatened to cancel events in opposition to the bill. In 2017, the year North Carolina rolled back the law, 16 states examined bills to restrict bathroom and locker room access based on birth or biological sex, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious rights organization, has pushed a similar bill called the Student Physical Privacy Act in at least a few states, including Colorado, Minnesota and Kansas. The organization also sent schools across the country a model policy to be used in restrooms, locker rooms and showers.

Right to work

A Right-to-Work Protest December 11, 2012 at the Capitol in Lansing, Michigan. (Wikimedia Commons)

The wave of “right to work” legislation appears to be the latest iteration of the decades-old rivalry between unions and business. The laws, which say employees can’t be forced to join a union or pay dues, are favored by businesses and political proponents who say the measures boost employment and worker income. But organized labor, such as the AFL-CIO, stands staunchly against them and say they favor big business and inhibit workers’ rights to collectively bargain. The National Right to Work Committee promotes its own “right to work” model legislation (ALEC also pushes a bill) and lobbies states to defeat “forced unionism.” It says there are 27 Right to Work states, most of them in the South and Midwest. Though supporters of “right to work” are quick to list its benefits, a 2017 study by researchers from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that “right to work” policies have lowered wages in Midwest states.

‘Anti-Sharia’ bills

Nearly all state legislatures have considered bills that prevent state courts from using foreign laws. About a dozen states have passed them. Sometimes labeled “anti-Sharia,” the laws are driven by concerns that law based on the Islamic faith poses a threat to the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that at least 200 anti-Sharia bills have been introduced in 43 states since 2010. One prominent piece of model legislation is the American Laws for American Courts bill, introduced in numerous states. The legislation’s author is attorney David Yerushalmi, co-founder of the American Freedom Law Center. The center described itself as a national interest law firm that fights for limited government and “America’s Judeo-Christian heritage.” On his own website, Yerushalmi says the goal of his bill is “to insulate state courts from the growing tendency to embrace constitutionally offensive foreign laws.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations has publicly denounced the laws and often leads efforts to quash them. Most recently, the organization targeted a similar South Carolina bill it said serves “only to fearmonger (sic) about Muslim Americans.”

Article V constitutional convention

Model bills snake their way through legislatures, affecting cities and state agencies, but their effects could shape policy at the federal level – if enough states get with the plan. One example is the efforts to trigger Article V of the U.S. Constitution. Under Article V, the Founding Fathers offered states the opportunity to hold a convention to tweak the Constitution – if two-thirds of states would agree. In recent years, some states have taken interest in this constitutional work-around to reel in the power of the federal government. ALEC promotes a number of Article V model bills, one of which asks legislatures to join other states in calling for a constitutional convention because of the country’s mounting national debt, unfunded mandates and federal “abuses of power.” The pro-Democracy group Common Cause warned that Article V supporters are just six states short of their 34-state goal. The group says such a convention poses an “unacceptable risk” if it occurs in today’s polarized political climate.

Contributing: The Louisville Courier Journal, the Detroit Free Press and The Associated Press

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Duncan McEwanDan MarayeJon Michael YeagerSherbroek Recent comment authors
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How do you stop this? A federal law mandating legislation source transparency? Or mandating that the full text of every proposed piece of legislation is published in full for a period of time before it is voted on to give citizens a chance to speak for or against it? Prevent the beneficiaries of any legislation in any one session from making political donations? Require sponsors of any bill to have to describe the bill from the floor to prove they know what’s in it?

Jon Michael Yeager
Jon Michael Yeager

Interesting. I explained,to Public Integrity, in great detail, a specific Washington State Lien Law, ‘Correction’, done in the early 90’s. It is of course, documented. A Federal Bank had financed a dairy processing company. It’s new borrower defaulted in under a year, despite the Processor having an 85 consecutive year presence in the State. The Bank sought protection from losses the new borrower would have laid upon it. The Bank, utilizing its own, “In house counsel” ( one lawyer) , wrote a ‘new and improved’ lien law, so that the bank could intercept checks that would have been paid to… Read more »

Dan Maraye
Dan Maraye

A critical analysis of World Bank and the IMF recommendations to several developing countries smell of the same weaknesses.

Duncan McEwan
Duncan McEwan

If an elected official has been in office for more than six years, they are on the take. Some group or another is paying them. And if you are concerned about the laws you should also be concerned about how the money is spent by government agencies. When a government agency needs outside help to properly conduct the business of the agency they are required to publish a Request For Proposal (RFP) in the Commerce Business Daily (CBD). The agency is also required to have an Acceptance Test Plan (ATP) to determine whether the work has been completed correctly. Frequently… Read more »