As House lawmakers debated whether to halve the number of North Carolina children eligible for free pre-kindergarten, several key members were missing from the chamber.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, and Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, left early Thursday to attend the ALEC Spring Task Force meeting in Oklahoma City, scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
According to Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw, the only state funds spent were for registration fees - a practice also extended for legislators' trips to other conferences, like the National Conference of State Legislators.
ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, describes itself as a free-market, limited-government group.
According to the group's website, "ALEC’s national Task Forces serve as public-policy laboratories where legislators develop model policies to use across the country."
"Unique to ALEC Task Forces is the public-private partnership," the website says."Legislators welcome their private sector counterparts to the table as equals, working in unison to solve the challenges facing our nation."
Membership is inexpensive for lawmakers, but big corporate interests pay tens of thousands of dollars for a seat at the table and the access it brings.
Saine is ALEC's new state chairman, replacing former House Speaker and budget chair Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, who retired from the legislature in 2012.
Several ALEC model bills have been filed in North Carolina, including the "Founding Principles Act" that became law in 2011, backed by Brubaker and Sen. Don Vaughn, D-Guilford, also a former ALEC member.
Many other bills bear striking resemblance to ALEC legislation, including proposals to repeal the renewable energy standard, offer school vouchers to parents, and reform environmental regulations.
Tillis won the group's Legislator of the Year award in 2011.