Why Template Legislation is a Terrible Political Play for Homelessness

legislators voting in template legislation

Laws that criminalize homelessness have proven time and again to be exceedingly expensive and ineffective. So, then, why are your local legislators hiring conservative think tanks to draft them by the thousands? The unsettling trend is called template legislation, and when the tactic gets applied to anti-homeless laws, it poses a serious threat to every community in the country.

Laws that criminalize homelessness have proven time and again to be exceedingly expensive and ineffective. So, then, why are your local legislators hiring conservative think tanks to draft them by the thousands? The unsettling trend is called template legislation, and when the tactic gets applied to anti-homeless laws, it poses a serious threat to every community in the country.

The United States of America continues grappling with the highest rates of homelessness on record. Millions of people fall into the difficult position of being homeless here each year. The national shame has spiraled out of control to the point that nobody – not city officials or mainstream media outlets, not social media influencers or presidential candidates – can conceal it.

With each passing day, the general public’s awareness increases as it stands before them in human form on subways, in libraries, at the intersections of city streets, and stares them in the face.

There is a lot at stake for local legislators who haven’t succeeded in solving the housing crisis. Each law that gets drafted regarding homelessness seems to be that much more draconian and that much less effective.

Over the years, the not-so-subtle shift away from providing housing and in favor of criminalizing the homeless population has intensified and morphed. Anti-homeless laws that make the act of being homeless itself a criminal offense have grown in number.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, anti-camping laws increased by 92% between 2006 and 2019, while laws making living in a vehicle illegal shot up by a startling percentage rate of 213%. But this is the tip of the iceberg in the sea of unjust legislative movements.

An In-Depth Investigation Revealed the Fact That Template Legislation is Largely Used to Push Corporate Agendas at the Expense of Voter’s Interests

In 2019, 30 investigative reporters from the Center for Public Integrity, USA Today, and The Arizona Republic investigated this phenomenon. The results were shocking.

Template legislation, alternatively referred to as copy-paste legislation or model legislation, is when the same proposed bill is reproduced nationwide using slightly different language. Rather than passing new, individual laws, these lawmakers merely copy and paste an idea brought forth by a think tank.

That idea almost always pushes a corporate agenda at the expense of the public’s best interest. Some examples include:

  • Copy-paste bills that make it difficult for low-income earners to receive food stamps
  • Model bills that pose obstacles for victims of asbestos to be financially compensated
  • Template legislation limiting protestor rights, and the list goes on

In the words of the authors involved in the journalistic report, which examined close to a million bills across 50 states over two years, “these so-called ‘model’ bills get copied in one state Capitol after another, quietly advancing the agenda of the people who write them.”

Reporters running a unique data-analysis engine designed to identify comparable language in individual pieces of legislation revealed that 10,000 pieces of template legislation made their way into state legislatures over eight years. Two thousand one hundred of the copied and pasted bills were passed into law.

Imagine 2,100 new laws quietly ushered through the legislative process to advance corporate interests over public interests. This is what is happening in our legislative system right now, again.

Reporters claim that some state reps have ceased to write bills from scratch at all, favoring this fill-in-the-blank procedure to the traditional way of drafting laws. In addition to creating a lazy environment for legislators and an unfair advantage for conservative think tanks, template legislation was found to have all of the following unfavorable characteristics:

Deceptive Titles

This is something we are seeing across the board, particularly regarding homelessness. Bills pushed by corporations and think tanks are deceptive, often titled the opposite of what they intend to do.

An excellent example of this is the “Reducing Street Homelessness Act,” which does not reduce homelessness but makes it a felony for a homeless person to sleep outside. Other examples of deceptive titles include “The HOPE Act,” which poses barriers to food stamp access, and “The Asbestos Transparency Act,” which makes it nearly impossible for victims exposed to asbestos to receive their rightful compensation.

Pushing Agendas

These bills tend to forward the goals of corporate magnates, conservative think tanks, and special interest groups as they lobby to swindle hard-working Americans out of their rights.

Quietly Passing Without Voter Consent

Crafty politicians have managed to further their corrupt agendas through template legislation while bypassing voter consent. In some cases, regarding things like minimum wage increases, they’ve even lobbied against bills voters ushered in and managed to quietly overturn those bills in favor of legislation that suited corporate interests.

Conservative Think Tanks Like the Cicero Institute Are Now Using Template Legislation to Copy and Paste Homeless People into Concentration Camps and Prison Cells

The harrows of template legislation are taking on a new form as housing experts and homeless advocates note a sudden and impactful increase in anti-homeless bills produced with similar language and thought patterns.

Like the previous laws, these new bills quietly push corporate interests and linger in the legislature under deceptive titles. Some of the most recent examples include:

  • Milwaukee Assembly Bill 689 and Senate Bill 669
  • The Reducing Street Homelessness Act
  • Arizona House Bill 2668, entitled Nutrition Assistance; benefit match; appropriation
  • Missouri Senate Bill 1106 modifies provisions relating to funding for housing programs and many more

With almost matching language and identical agendas, all of the bills being pushed by the Cicero Institute seek to redirect funds away from government housing programs and into a new system of government-sanctioned concentration camps where homeless people will be forced against their will to reside.

This is every bit as dystopian as it sounds. If it goes unchecked, in no time, there will be tens of thousands more bills just like this being quietly and deceptively passed without voter consent all across the country.

“Everybody should be aware and be checking on the regular about what’s going on in their state,” said Sherrie Tussler, Chief Executive Officer for the nonprofit organization Hunger Task Force.

Sherrie boasts 27 years of experience in dealing with the homeless sector and claims she’s never seen anything quite as egregious as what’s going on now with template criminalization models.

“Cicero’s costing people a pile of money in local communities over this failed legislation,” Sherrie said. “In terms of solutions to homelessness, simply pushing the population out of sight is not the best approach. People should be careful what they wish for and think about the consequences of passing laws like this and what it does in the court system ultimately, and who’s paying that bill.”

Of course, that bill is headed right in the direction of American taxpayers, the vast majority of whom are already one paycheck or emergency away from falling into homelessness.

Talk to Your Legislators About Doing the Job You’re Paying Them to Do

Legislators, representatives, and politicians should make money by drafting laws that solve homelessness rather than criminalizing it. At the very least, they should be writing these laws themselves rather than outsourcing the task to corporate entities that can use it to enforce harmful agendas that work against voter interests and rights.

Call your local legislators today and let them know that you expect them to do the job you’ve been paying them to do by drafting laws that make housing a human right.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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