Voting restrictions, gerrymandering, and big money in politics tend to grab the headlines. But another strand in the assault on democracy has flown much further under the radar: State-level pre-emption.
In recent years, as cities have emerged as rare bastions of progressive law-making, Republican-controlled states from Arizona to North Carolina have cracked down on the authority of local governments to pass laws regulating the economy, the environment, and more. Seventeen states have barred cities from raising the minimum wage, and others have laws on paid sick leave. In Alabama, an all-white majority of state lawmakers last year wiped out Birmingham’s minimum wage hike, which would have helped mostly African-American low-wage workers, just days before it was set to go into effect. Other states have nixed local laws regulating oil and gas development, and even local bans on plastic bags.
Now Florida lawmakers are considering the nuclear option…
A newly introduced GOP-backed measure would effectively bar local governments from passing any business regulation stricter than that approved by the state. In other words, it would take from local governments any independent authority to regulate businesses.
“There is an attack on home rule like I have not seen in 25 years,” Lakeland mayor Howard Wiggs told a local paper.
As I explained in The Great Suppression, the push for state-level pre-emption has often been coordinated by ALEC, the secretive umbrella group for corporate lobbyists and conservative state legislators. It represents a direct attack on the power of ordinary people to set the direction of their own communities, and it undermines democracy at the one place where it still works reasonably well: the local level.