National League of Cities’ Mayors Institute on Preemption

Posted on October 24, 2018 by Dene Westbrook

League staff participated in the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Mayor’s Institute on Preemption in Dearborn. This was the second Institute the NLC has hosted on this topic over the last several months.  The goal of these gatherings is to bring together mayors from around the country, as well as legal and policy experts, to discuss the magnitude of preemption efforts by state legislatures and Congress, evaluate the impacts on cities, and identify some communication and legal tools to push back on preemption issues.

At last week’s gathering, Michigan mayors Jack O’Reilly, Karen Majewski, and Bill Wild were joined by the mayors of Madison, WI, and Kansas City, MO and a team from Gary, IN.  It was clear from the discussion that Michigan is not alone in seeing preemption legislation pass as a mechanism of limiting regulation overall, and that it’s sometimes pursued even without the related local regulations existing or being proposed by communities in the state. The group discussed the role of national lobbying groups in pushing similar preemption language across the states, such as plastic bag bans, local taxi authorities, minimum wage, and local health benefits programs, among others.

Lawyers working with NLC gave an update on the status of pending and resolved litigation regarding preemption, including potential legal arguments using the takings clause to protect against preemption of local broadband and 5G ordinances.

An important part of the day’s discussion focused on how to communicate with the public about issues of preemption.  It is not a term that is widely understood or that people naturally relate to.  Kim Haddow of the Local Solutions Support Center shared survey results from their work which they are using to shape new messaging around the preemption issue. Based on their survey findings, they recommend communities and local partners frame the issue by:

  • Fighting values with values – local democracy, control, and the community’s ability to best meet unique views, values and needs.
  • Giving examples of preemption laws that have a negative effect – preemption is being used to overturn election results, which has a direct impact on individual voters and negates the local decision-making powers
  • Assigning motive to preemption – explain that special interests are pushing preemption to block any possible local authority that could impact their business.
  • Using language that connects to voters – instead of talking about “preemption” talk about “state interference in local issues” instead

Preemption may be among the most important policy issues facing local governments.  Surveys and studies routinely show that people have more trust in local government than state or federal government.  Local government is much more directly responsive to its constituents and can reflect local nuances in culture, economy, geography, and values.  When state governments interfere in our ability to establish local rules and policies that reflect our communities’ needs, they are endangering democracy and jeopardizing trust in government overall.

The League will continue to work with NLC and partners to push back against inappropriate use of preemption.  If you want to learn more about the NLC’s efforts, check out their updated City Rights in an Era of Preemption report.

Shanna Draheim is the policy development director for the League overseeing special research initiatives and projects related to the League’s strategic goals. She can be reached at [email protected] or 517-908-0307.

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