Across the country, cities and counties are taking steps to promote progress and to protect their residents on a range of issues, including workers’ rights and benefits, the minimum wage, nondiscrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, pro-immigrant policies, environmental efforts, and more. However, a new report examines how many state legislatures are attempting to limit these efforts through “preemption,” or state laws that block or prevent local governments from passing their own laws on a range of issues.
The Power of State Preemption: Preventing Progress and Threatening Equality exposes the coordinated effort to limit municipalities from passing local laws, the special interests motivating these efforts, and the negative impact specifically on LGBT people. The report is authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) in partnership with A Better Balance, Equality Federation, Family Values @ Work, and the Local Solutions Support Center.
The report shows that local governments have taken steps to pass policies that reflect their communities’ values and to advance LGBT rights. These steps range from raising the minimum wage or guaranteeing workers paid sick days, as well as nondiscrimination ordinances that protect residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, many state governments are attempting to preempt these efforts and limit the progress local governments can achieve, despite the benefit to local residents and economies. What’s more, state efforts to prevent local progress are on the rise: in the 2017 and 2018 state legislative cycles alone, at least 46 states considered more than 100 preemption bills across a wide variety of policy issues.
“In the absence of state nondiscrimination laws that protect all residents, many local leaders have filled the void by enacting local nondiscrimination ordinances. Yet, all too often, we have seen states and special interests use preemption to overturn or prevent cities and counties from passing laws supported by local citizens and the majority of Americans,” says Ineke Mushovic, MAP executive director. “When states use preemption laws to prioritize special interests over people, our democracy is threatened.”
Current preemption efforts target LGBT equality in at least two key ways: hindering local nondiscrimination ordinances (often by targeting transgender people and restricting restroom access), and preventing cities from banning harmful conversion therapy used on LGBT youth. In addition, states often preempt local progress on a variety of other policy issues, impacting a wide range of communities. These efforts include, but are not limited to, restricting cities’ abilities to increase the minimum wage, as well as preventing cities from extending paid sick leave or efforts to assist unauthorized immigrants.
“Around the country, local governments are stepping up and passing laws—such as anti-discrimination protections and inclusive paid leave policies—that advance the health, safety, and well-being of all community members, including LGBTQ people and their families,” said Jared Make, Director of A Better Balance’s Defending Local Democracy Project. “Unfortunately, special interest groups are increasingly pushing state legislatures to block these local laws. A Better Balance is working with cities and advocacy partners to fight this state interference and ensure that local governments can protect the LGBTQ community.”
State legislatures are increasingly using preemption to reassert control, limit local authority, and prevent progress on a wide range of issues. The report concludes that when preemption is used in this way to undermine people’s economic security, health, and safety, it jeopardizes local democracy and equality for all.