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Republicans Suddenly Value Big Government as Cities Go Liberal

Party of small government aims to use 'preemption laws' against liberal cities enacting progressive legislation

A protest demanding a $15 minimum wage takes place in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue/flickr/cc)

Newly emboldened Republicans are looking to crack down on liberal cities implementing rules on everything from sugar taxes to environmental regulations.

The party that trumpets its love of small government is now leaning on so-called "preemption laws" that allow state legislatures to supersede local measures.

That means localities that have raised minimum wages above federal levels, or are seeking to ban controversial drilling techniques like fracking, may now be targeted by Republicans who claim they have overstepped their legislative bounds.

The Hill's Reid Wilson writes:

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.

The move comes just as lawmakers and organizations gear up for a campaign of long-term resistance to President-elect Donald Trump's right-wing agenda, a strategy that relies on action at the local and state levels.

Using these laws to stymie progressive action threatens democracy and local control, warns Preemption Watch, a project of the Oakland, California-based group Grassroots Change. Mark Pertschuk, the group's director, told The Hill that the number of issues on which states have asserted their rights has skyrocketed in the last four years, as Republicans have gathered state-level power and Democrats have retained control in cities.

Brooks Rainwater, director of the Center for City Solutions at the National League of Cities, added, "In the past 10 to 15 years, cities have become the laboratories of innovation. The discordant views of those at the local level and those at the state level have led to some real challenges."

Preemption came into play in North Carolina last year, when an undemocratic power play by state Republicans ended with Charlotte being forbidden from enforcing anti-discrimination laws that were stronger than those at the state level. That meant the city could not enact rules protecting LGBTQ people after the passage of the infamous, GOP-sponsored HB2 "bathroom bill" that required transgender people to use facilities of their biological sex, not their gender identity.

And some Republican states are considering using "blanket preemption" laws that cut off cities from funding if they don't fall in line, Wilson adds.

Pertschuk also noted that a high volume of measures are expected to hit state legislatures this session, which could give ample opportunity for usage of preemption laws. "This is going to be the worst year we've ever had," he said.

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