Pre-emption of Local Governments is Going Too Far

This piece first appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.

As has been noted widely, numerous state legislatures are drafting legislation to pre-empt local government policies. States initially gave local governments the power to enact those laws, so this is a form of changing the rules after the game’s begun if you don’t like how it’s going.

Most of these pre-emptions to-date have been the work of Republican controlled state legislatures. Florida, for example, last year produced legislation that made clear the state has the sole power to regulate guns in any way, including whether they can be used in city hall, parks, schools and anywhere else.

This year legislation is proposed to ban local governments’ power to pass ordinances that regulate backing into parking spaces — which is something people in trucks seem to do quite a bit — to ban the creation of sanctuary cities, of which Florida now has zero, to ban local regulation of tree trimming, and so on. These seem to address both pet peeves and interest group demands.

Democrat-controlled state governments, not wanting to miss the party, are now enacting legislation that pre-empts federal laws that end net neutrality. It is likely more will be on the way, but Democratic Party-controlled state governments are slow to enter the game and have quite a bit of catching up to do.

Before the pre-emption wave, city laws that conflicted with state laws were challenged in court. Courts either ruled for or against the city. The new pre-emptions recognize that the cities have the rights to do what they’re doing, but move to take those rights away.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, both gubernatorial candidates, plan to debate over sanctuary cities. Given that there are no sanctuary cities in Florida, it isn’t certain what the issue is about substantively, although the symbolic meaning to them and their core constituents seems clear. How this debate improves the way either officeholder represents his constituents remains to be seen. How it helps two underdog campaigns get free press is apparent.

Corcoran claims the Legislature is better able to represent public opinion because it has 120 members versus the handful on most city councils. That’s a unique view of representation, but given that he’s the speaker and, as the saying goes, is in “the catbird seat,” we may need to start asking for local policy directly from our state Legislature.

I’d really like more direct flights and less expensive airfares. Please take care of that, state Legislature. The city has tried, but we could use your help.

I’d like for Tallahassee to put sidewalks on both sides of the street so I don’t have to cross from side to side to stay out of the road. Legislature? The city ordinance that requires for people pick up after their pets is often ignored, like in my front yard this morning. Let’s get to work, Legislature!

636536757453365273-barrilleaux.jpgCharles Barrilleaux studies and teaches public policy and state and local government. He is a member of the political science faculty at FSU.



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