The widely respected American Constitution Society released a new report today that pans the efforts of North Carolina legislators to hamstring local government through state statutes that preempt city and county ordinances. The report is entitled “The Troubling Turn in State Preemption: The Assault on Progressive Cities and How Cities Can Respond.”  This is from a release that accompanied the report:
Increasingly, states are attempting to shut down local innovation through preemptive legislation that overrides local lawmaking. Whether threatening to withhold state funding from sanctuary cities, precluding civil rights protections for LGBT citizens, or prohibiting cities from raising the minimum wage for their workers, these efforts are stifling local democracy. In some cases, preemption efforts have even gone so far as to impose criminal liability on city officials who merely vote for progressive legal reforms. This Issue Brief surveys the landscape of state preemption and offers “possibilities for strengthening home rule to advance progressive local policymaking at a moment when cities increasingly stand on the front lines of economic justice, civil rights, sustainable development, and so many other critical policy domains.”
The report highlights North Carolina’s infamous House Bill 2 and its disastrous preemption of a Charlotte ordinance that sought to bar discrimination in access to public facilities and the state’s efforts to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” as examples of the kind of problematic preemption that has been on the rise across the nation. This is from the report:
In an era of paralysis and increasingly bitter partisan conflict at the national level, cities have become a critical source of innovation across a wide array of policy areas that advance inclusion, equitable opportunity, and social justice. In recent years, cities and other local governments have taken the lead in enacting minimum wage and paid sick leave policies, expanding the boundaries of civil rights, responding to emerging environmental threats, tackling public health challenges, and advancing other important progressive goals.
Increasingly, however, states have been working to shut down this local innovation through legislation that either overrides—“preempts”—local policies or withdraws authority from local governments. North Carolina’s success in blocking the city of Charlotte’s ordinance extending municipal non-discrimination protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people appropriately sparked national outrage, but it is only one high-profile example. States have left almost no area of local policy free from preemption—increasingly expressing political differences through a legal tool originally designed to protect legitimate state interests in uniformity and to police against truly recalcitrant localities. The trend toward intrusive state oversight has been most notable in—but is by no means exclusive to—states with conservative state governments that are home to progressive cities, and these conflicts have been growing in recent years.
Let’s hope the report helps educate Americans to the dangers in this current trend and the need for a strong and thoughtful pushback from caring and thinking officials and citizens. Click here  to learn more about the report.