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Legislative group turns focus amid Martin backlash

Mike Baker, Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- A conservative organization that helped spread a Florida law that allows people to use deadly force rather than retreat when they feel threatened said Tuesday that it was abandoning the task force that developed the measure.

The American Legislative Exchange Council's move comes as the group has been criticized for the "Stand Your Ground" law, which gained national attention after the shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watchman.

The group wants to refocus resources away from its public safety panel in order to concentrate on economic issues, said the group's national chairman, Indiana Rep. David Frizzell.

The decision comes as several major companies, including Coca-Cola Co. and McDonald's Corp., decided to drop their financial support.

"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," Frizzell said in a prepared statement.

ALEC has long been a target of liberal advocacy groups who complain that the organization allows private companies undue access to state lawmakers and plays a questionable role in the development of legislation.

And the group has been placed on the defensive after Martin's death because of its ties to the "Stand Your Ground" measure.

ALEC said it did not back the Florida law but did use it to develop model legislation for other states. The group said it is designed to prevent people who are trying to defend themselves from serious danger.

Similar statutes now exist in two dozen other states.

George Zimmerman, charged last week with second-degree murder in Martin's death, maintains that he shot Martin in self-defense after the teen attacked him. His attorney plans to cite the law, which is part of the reason why authorities were reluctant to charge Zimmerman initially.

Opponents of the law fear that the statutes lead to too many unnecessary deaths caused by trigger-happy people who feel they are in danger. Prosecutors and police have generally opposed the laws as confusing and prone to abuse by criminals.

Gun rights are not a primary focus of ALEC's activities, as the group has task forces assessing issues ranging from the regulation of cable television to how states hire attorneys.

Lisa Graves, a leader at the Center for Media and Democracy who has been targeting ALEC over the past year, said the announcement was unexpected and that it signaled in part the strength of the movement against the group.

Graves also downplayed the development by saying it was likely a public relations move.

Graves said she still has concerns about ALEC's policy views on issues ranging from climate change to tort reform, and she noted that ALEC's decision to end the task force comes after the group has already managed to get laws passed across the country.

"They've already created a lot of damage, and this step is not going to undo that damage," Graves said.


Baker can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/mikebakerap