This year, Republicans in seven other state houses have introduced legislation virtually identical to Isaac’s bill, requiring contractors to sign pledges promising not to boycott energy companies. West Virginia’s version passed both state houses in March, and is awaiting the governor’s signature. In December, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force voted to back a version of Isaac’s legislation. The bill seemed tailor-made for ALEC, a corporate-funded organization that drafts model bills for conservative legislators to introduce in state houses across the US. But after taking criticism in the media, ALEC clarified that the bill is only “being debated and discussed” by the organization and has not yet been fully adopted.
The laws have the potential to limit the strategies that climate activists can pursue. “Activists seriously concerned with the climate, the environment, and the future of our youth and the planet see divestment as an important strategy, to get corporations on board to do what they can,” said David Armiak, research director with the Center for Media and Democracy, a group that has tracked the influence of the Texas law. “If governments enact these laws, that could chill those corporations doing divestment. It’s going to make activists’ job much more difficult.” The measures taking aim at the right to boycott for political reasons are just one part of a far broader right-wing assault on free speech encompassing attacks on educators’s ability to teach about race, gender, and sexuality, and on the right to protest. (Many of the bills targeting speech are backed by ALEC, including anti-BDS efforts and bills that increase penalties for protests of oil and gas pipelines.)