After consolidating power in Washington, D.C. and state capitals under President-elect Donald Trump, Republicans are moving to prevent large cities dominated by Democrats from enacting sweeping liberal agendas.
From The Hill
Republican state legislatures are planning so-called preemption laws, which prevent cities and counties from passing new measures governing everything from taxes to environmental regulations and social issues.
Republican legislators around the country say liberal cities and counties vastly overstepped their bounds by implementing new taxes on sodas and sugary beverages, by raising local minimum wages or through strict new environmental regulations.
“What we see is circumventing the process that’s in place,” said Linda Upmeyer, the Republican speaker of the Iowa state House. “I think we will likely look at language on preemption so that the state is making decisions where it ought to, and cities and counties are making decisions where they should.”
Democrats and city officials, however, see the preemption laws as a power grab aimed at limiting local governance in their party’s last bastions of political power — which have become ground zero in the fight to resist Trump.
Preemption laws are nothing new in American history. The Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution makes clear that federal law supersedes state law, and similar clauses in state constitutions give state laws precedence over local laws.
In recent decades, tobacco companies have used preemption laws to overcome local smoking bans, and the National Rifle Association turned to preemption to block cities from implementing new gun control measures.
But in the last four years, after Republicans swept to power in legislatures across the country, the number of issues on which states are asserting their rights has skyrocketed, said Mark Pertschuk, director of the Oakland-based Grassroots Change, which keeps close tabs on preemption legislation.
The tension has grown as cities experiment with measures to raise revenue, keep their citizens healthy or add new protections for workers — and as Republicans have won control of states where Democrats still run large cities.
“In the past 10 to 15 years, cities have become the laboratories of innovation,” said Brooks Rainwater, director of the Center for City Solutions at the National League of Cities, which opposes local preemption laws. “The discordant views of those at the local level and those at the state level have led to some real challenges.”
The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, has offered five sample preemption bills on everything from local minimum wage hikes to rules governing genetically modified food and other agriculture products.
In just the last month, legislatures in Michigan and Wisconsin have passed laws preempting local governments from banning plastic grocery bags. In the last few years, courts have upheld the rights of Colorado and Texas legislators to prevent municipalities from banning hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, within their borders. Ohio is the latest state to preempt local efforts to raise the minimum wage, after Cleveland tried to boost wages for its lowest-paid workers.
Proponents of local control worry that with the incoming Trump administration, even more power will bleed away from cities and counties. The outgoing Obama administration sided with municipal utilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., when the utilities wanted to expand access to broadband internet services beyond city borders. Republican-led legislatures in both states blocked those efforts, before the Federal Communications Commission stepped in.
Anticipating the number of measures likely to spring up in legislatures in coming months, Pertschuk added: “This is going to be the worst year we’ve ever had.”
Even the controversial HB2 law, passed last year by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature, is a preemption law: It blocked the city of Charlotte from enforcing anti-discrimination measures that were stronger than statewide laws already on the books.
This year, measures similar to HB2, preempting local protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people, have already been filed in states like South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas.
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