Top Ohio newspapers failed to adequately highlight the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) influence on recent asbestos legislation in the state.
On December 4, the Ohio Senate passed an ALEC-inspired bill that curbs the ability of asbestos victims to file lawsuits for damages. From Legal Newsline:
A bill meant to stop the duplication of asbestos lawsuits has passed the Ohio state Senate.
The bill, which passed the Senate by a 19-14 vote, would require anyone to reveal all asbestos claims filed by them or for them. If they don't do so, the person could face perjury charges. The bill made it through Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. It passed the House in January.
Critics, however, say the measure would slow legitimate claims. And they say the bill would make Ohio the first state with such claim restrictions even though Ohio is among the states with the biggest backlog of asbestos claims.
The Dayton Daily News and Cincinnati Enquirer both failed to link the harmful asbestos bill to ALEC in their original reporting, despite it being covered in other states and nationally. Only the Columbus Dispatch ran an original story that noted the piece of legislation was an ALEC model bill, while the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Dayton Daily News published AP versions of the story that briefly mentioned ALEC. None of the stories highlighted the several legislators who supported the bill who are also known members of ALEC.
Ohio has the 8th highest rate of death in the nation from mesothelioma and asbestosis with 1,328 total mesothelioma and asbestosis deaths from 1999 to 2008. Ohio is one of several states to pass an ALEC inspired bill attempting to limit the damages victims of asbestos exposure can seek. This year alone, legislation attempting to curtail victims' rights has been passed in Michigan, Arizona, Idaho, and Utah. The Minnesota legislature also passed an ALEC inspired bill, however it was vetoed by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (D).
In 2001, ALEC and manufacturing company Crown Holdings, Inc. jointly crafted model legislation which attempted to limit the amount in compensation victims of asbestos-related diseases received from companies who exposed their workers to asbestos. Coverage of the model bill in Minnesota from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune revealed that this "national effort" was being undertaken by the "$8 billion can manufacturer to shield itself from costly asbestos lawsuits." Even the general counsel to Crown Holdings, William Gallagher, announced in testimony before the Michigan House Judiciary Committee that the laws passed in other states were based on ALEC model legislation and urged Michigan to enact a similar law.
Unsurprisingly, several legislators involved in the crafting of the Ohio asbestos bill are or were members of ALEC. A Cincinnati Enquirer article -- while completely omitting any ALEC mentions -- cited several legislators who sponsored and voted for the bill including the bill's originator Rep. Louis Blessing Jr., Senate President Tom Niehaus, Sen. Bill Seitz and Sen. Bill Coley. All four have known ties to ALEC according to the Center for Media and Democracy's project, ALEC Exposed.
Despite the many news reports and facts linking this bill to ALEC, Ohio newspapers generally failed to produce original content which makes the link. The Cincinnati Enquirer published a piece of original content that made no mention of ALEC. The Dayton Daily News published one original news story which did not mention ALEC. In addition, the Daily News published two AP stories on the bill, but only one of which made the ALEC connection. The only paper to run an original story mentioning ALEC was the Columbus Dispatch which, buried at the bottom of a story on legislative action banning Internet cafes, wrote a short blurb on other lame-duck legislative action:
Following a spirited debate, the Senate approved House Bill 380, which is aimed at victims of on-the-job asbestos exposure who try to pursue two avenues for damages. It would require workers to disclose all asbestos claims they have filed. Critics say it would block legitimate claims. The bill is based on model legislation from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. The bill passed 19-14, with four Republicans, including Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, joining all Democrats in opposition.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dayton Daily News both ran an AP version of the story that referenced ALEC at the end of the story:
The bill stems from model legislation developed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which has drawn attention for the entree it's recently gained at statehouses through efforts including opulent, corporate-backed conferences not always subject to normal disclosure rules.
None of this coverage -- the original content as well as the AP article -- mentioned the direct and extensive links between the bill's sponsors and ALEC, even when mentioning those legislators in their reporting.
Ohio papers are not alone, however. When the ALEC asbestos bill was passed in Michigan neither of the state's two biggest newspapers covered the connection.