Over the years it seems that there has been an increasing power play that takes place at state capitols around the United States of America. It takes place mainly behind the scenes, of course, quietly with the intention to preempt cities from being able to govern themselves without interference from state legislators that are in session hundreds of miles away.
Often this local government coup d’état is led by legislators who do not even live in a city. They live in unincorporated areas.
Often this local government intrusion is led by state legislators who are not aware of and/or just ignore constitutional home rule.
Often laws are passed whereby the Legislature preempts themselves!
The power play has to do with legislators that want to roll over city government entities, diminish city government officials’ constitutional authority, and remove duly elected mayors’ and councilors’ ability to make local decisions, and to be able to protect local communities.
The “weapon” of choice in this power play is the use of “preemption.”
What in the world is a “preemption?” It is a doctrine of American constitutional law that permits overriding powers, decisions, and the will of the people of a lower level of government by a higher level of government.
A preemption deprives the power of local government from conducting the will of the people at a local level.
Preemption is usually used when policy necessitates a statewide regulatory scheme, such as uniform traffic laws, water permits, and fire and building codes.
This “quiet” legislative action as explained above is conducted in plain sight and is legal. A preemption is neither good or bad. It is more like welcomed and unwelcomed! An unwelcomed preemption is where the state Legislature moves to eliminate or reduce the authority of cities/citizens on a given issue. The federal government, of course, uses preemptions in addressing states’ policies.
Special interest preemptions are now the most predominant type of preemptions. This national trend includes increasing mandates that decrease the ability of cities to meet these mandates.
For example, let’s look at the telecommunications and utilities industry, specifically their focus on cell towers, substations, and small-cell wireless. They often request preemptions.
Other industries that frequently use preemptions are agribusiness, agritourism and fertilizer; retail and restaurant industry; polystyrene; franchise conflicts; and let’s not forget the homebuilders and Realtors dealing with septic tanks inspections and permitting. The NRA has obtained preemptions over the years in many states on local gun regulations.
Last year, the Florida Legislature interfered with cities’ ability to regulate tree-trimming, even for “tree cities” like my city of Seminole that has taken steps to promote urban forestry and is designated as a Tree City USA. My goodness, legislators involved with tree-trimming? Really?
Powerful special interest groups have the ear of state legislators and national political organizations.
These special interest preemptions often have no state regulatory schemes or are not articulated in state policy, only written as an exception, aka a preemption.
Preemptions begin to be the actions of the day; preemptions start spreading like wildfire. Preemptions are used to impact cities, instead of legislation.
Local government is the form of government closest to the people, and if the people — the voters — don’t like what their local officials are doing, they will speak up, they will vote out their mayor and/or city councilors.
I have served at both the local and state levels of government, and it is clear to me that that state legislatures have far more expansive statewide issues to concentrate on than the everyday city task of tree-trimming. Major taxpayer projects and crucial issues of humanity await them every year; as well as issues such as infrastructure, water, education, juvenile justice, children and family, and of course, huge state budgets of billions of dollars to debate and approve.
Keep in mind that usually the only “vote” legislators must cast each legislative session is to vote on their state budgets — vote yes or no, vote up or down! So it is odd when state legislators put their sights and time toward local city business, instead of concentrating on budgets and statewide issues.
Cities are quite able to handle tree-trimming duties, short-term rentals, occupational licensing, straws, plastic bags, etc.
Good grief, if cities can’t or won’t handle the myriad of local issues, then the voters will replace them with local officials that can and will.
Be assured, city governments throughout our country can handle their own local business — specifically with input from millions of local voices making thousands of local choices.
So my suggestion to state legislatures that meet from sea to shining sea: Please think twice before interfering in city government, or you may just look up one day and the feds will be breathing down your microphones and interfering and getting all in your business!