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ALEC's influence peeks through several bills filed at the Lege this session

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Gov. Rick Perry being awarded the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award at the group's 2010 Annual Meeting

State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, is on a mission: to stop out-of-work drug users from financing their habit with unemployment insurance.

Well, some of them, at least. The thrust of Williams' SB 21 would require that the Texas Workforce Commission conduct drug screening of anyone claiming unemployment insurance in the transportation and healthcare industries. As Williams told a Senate committee last week, “If an individual's drug use is having an effect of making him or her unemployable, it is a matter of concern for the state.”

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” countered Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. What's the point, Davis asked, if the worker was drug-tested in their last job and is very likely to be tested again before being hired for their new job?

If Williams' bill sounds familiar, it's because it is. SB 21 looks like a watered-down version of a 2011 Florida law requiring drug testing for all state welfare recipients.

The connection wasn't lost on Davis, who in committee referenced Florida's costly program, which unearthed few drug-abusing welfare recipients before the courts ruled the law unconstitutional. “Certainly the State of Florida found a greater cost than savings,” Davis remarked.

The idea behind Williams' measure caught on with conservative lawmakers long before he filed his bill. Similar laws popped up in Arkansas and Wyoming by legislators who, like Williams, keep close company with the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC, of which Williams is a member, has been a key forum for issues like drug-testing welfare recipients. In fact, Florida's contested law came straight from the ALEC playbook.

This year, ALEC's official priorities include rolling out school vouchers, cutting back renewable energy requirements, compelling legislatures to require a super-majority when ratifying tax increases, and a “Tax and Expenditure Limitation Act” tying appropriations to population growth.

Once largely unknown, ALEC has gained infamy in recent years as the perennial boogeyman for liberal watchdogs. The non-profit 501(c)(3) organization is a consortium of private corporations, industry groups, and state lawmakers. Notable members include Pfizer, Shell Oil, and Raytheon. Through conferences and publications, corporations and conservative policy wonks promote “model bills” that lawmakers attempt to shepherd into law in their home states.

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