State Preemption of Local Legislation Is Getting Worse

The AR-15-style gun that Connor Betts used to kill nine people and injure 27 more on August 4 would have been illegal in Dayton before 2006. But that year, Ohio passed HB 347, which wiped out assault weapon bans and other gun control ordinances in roughly 80 cities throughout the state, including Dayton. That bill forbade cities from passing tougher gun regulations than what already exists in state laws. Ohio is one of 43 states that have laws that preempt or preclude cities and municipal governments from creating their own gun control ordinances—this despite the fact that cities bear the brunt of gun violence in most states.

State preemption laws cover far more ground than just gun activity, though. They are responsible for handcuffing cities from managing issues across the board: taxation, zoning, local land use, business practices, climate-change adaptation, and even what kind of monuments can and can’t be displayed. Cities should be concerned now that the power-grip of state preemption laws has been growing tighter over the last decade, according to a new report, “The Growing Shadow of State Interference,” produced by the Local Solutions Support Center and the State Innovation Exchange.

The report’s conclusion is outright chilling:

Local governments lost power again in 2019. Many state legislatures continued the trend started in 2011 of passing more, broader, and punitive preemption laws. Those laws, driven almost exclusively by special interests, once again stopped cities, towns and counties from acting to protect and promote the health, safety and civil rights of their residents.

The year 2011 marked the start of an era when, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, corporations were able to contribute far more to political campaigns (indirectly) than ever before. Many analysts said that this threw a significant advantage to Republican candidates who often vote in businesses’ financial interests. By 2011, Republicans picked up 675 state legislature seats, took control of 25 state legislatures (up from 14 the year before) and claimed 21 state trifectas—where Republicans controlled state house, senate, and governors’ offices (up from nine the year prior).

While both of the major political parties have a history of imposing state laws that override local ordinances, the preemption advantages of the past decade have tilted far more in favor of rural and conservative suburban legislative districts that typically vote Republican. The result is that, on top of the 43 states that overpower the ability of cities to regulate guns, there are now:

  • 44 states that prohibit cities from regulating ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft;
  • 31 states that bar cities’ local rent-control policies;
  • 25 states that restrict cities from raising the minimum wage;
  • 23 states that ban local paid sick leave laws;
  • and 20 states that block or ban municipal broadband networks.

According to the report, “2019 has seen a historically large number of preemption bills filed in some states,” many of them attacking local ordinances that were passed to

Pretty much all of the rural parts of Ohio voted for the preemption law. This means the urban areas where gun homicides are most prevalent have their hands tied in mitigating these circumstances by rural legislators who have little connection to these cities and the problems they face. But those rural districts have not been immune to gun-related deaths—suicides by gun have increased by 63 percent in those parts since 2007. Rural gun-related homicides have increased in that time period as well.

Meanwhile, it has been popular among conservatives lately to single out and blame cities for homicide and violent crime rates. It’s not so appealing to own up to the state and federal policies that hamstring cities from doing something about that.

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