City Authority Varies Widely From State to State

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In a new report, NLC finds that states limit city power through preemption in a number of policy areas, ranging from labor protections to taxing authority.

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In some cases, preemption can lead to improved policy statewide. However, preemption that prevents cities from expanding rights, building stronger economies, and promoting innovation can be counterproductive when decision-making is divorced from the core wants and needs of community members. (Getty Images)

State legislatures have gotten more aggressive in their use of preemption in recent years. Preemption is the use of state law to nullify a municipal ordinance or authority. Proponents of preemption argue that it equalizes laws across the state, preventing individuals and firms from navigating a patchwork of regulation. Preemption creates a problem, though, because it means a loss of local control for cities. This can have negative effects on local economies and the rights of marginalized groups. Moreover, these laws counter the intentions of local leaders and their communities.

As preemption efforts often concern a politically divisive issue, they rely on single-party dominance to pass through state legislatures. As of the 2016 election cycle, Republicans have 25 government trifectas, meaning they control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. Democrats have trifectas in six states, but control a larger portion of city halls. Several states where there has been single-party control over the last decade, including Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, have seen increases in preemption.

In our new report, City Rights in an Era of Preemption: A State-by-State Analysis, we closely examine seven different policy areas for preemptive state policies. The following is an overview of our findings:

  • 24 states preempt local minimum wage ordinances
  • 17 states preempt local paid leave ordinances
  • three states explicitly preempt local anti-discrimination ordinances
  • 37 states limit local authority to regulate ride sharing
  • three states limit local authority to regulate home sharing
  • 17 states preempt localities from establishing municipal broadband service
  • 42 states limit local fiscal authority through tax and expenditure limitations

Our analysis finds extensive variation in the number of preemptions and the application of these laws across states. Only two states, Connecticut and Vermont, do not preempt their cities in any of the seven policy areas we examined. On the other hand, 18 states preempt their cities in at least four of the policy areas.

Ultimately, state preemption limits the ability of cities to address critical local issues and uphold the values of those living in their communities. Our call for local control is intended to give cities the ability to adapt and to have the tools they need to build stronger economies, promote innovation, and move their states – and ultimately the country – forward.

Click here to read the full NLC report.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.