NYT Now localism has an Antonym.
So-called pre-emption laws, passed in states across the country, have barred cities from regulating landlords, building municipal broadband systems and raising the minimum wage. In the last two years, eight Republican-dominated states, most recently Alabama and Oklahoma, have prevented cities from enacting paid sick leave for workers, and a new law in Arkansas forbids municipalities to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. Already this year, bills introduced in six more states, including Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina, seek to do the same. At least five states have pre-empted local regulation of e-cigarettes. And in New Mexico, the restaurant industry supports a modest increase to the minimum wage only if the state stops cities from mandating higher minimums.
Often these efforts are driven by industry, which finds it easier to wield influence in 50 capitols than in thousands of city halls, said Mark Pertschuk, the director of Grassroots Change, which opposes the pre-emption of public health measures.
The strategy was pioneered by tobacco companies 30 years ago to override local smoking bans. It was perfected by the National Rifle Association, which has succeeded in preventing local gun regulations in almost every state.
More recently, the restaurant industry is leading the fight to block municipalities from increasing the minimum wage or enacting paid sick leave ordinances in more than a dozen states, including Florida, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
“Businesses are operating in an already challenging regulatory environment,” said Scott DeFife, the head of government affairs for the National Restaurant Association. “The state legislature is the best place to determine wage and hour law. This is not the kind of policy that should be determined jurisdiction by jurisdiction.”
This year, a combination of big money in state politics and a large number of first-time state legislators presents an opportunity for industries interested in getting favorable laws on the books, Mr. Pertschuk said. Increasingly, he said, disparate industries are banding together to back the same laws, through either the business-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, or shared lobbyists. “There is going to be a feeding frenzy all year long in the state legislatures,” he said.
Pre-emption bills are not solely the province of Republicans. In 2010, Democrats in California blocked cities from requiring restaurants to label menus with nutritional information.
With Republicans now in control of a record 69 state legislative chambers, such bills have become more conservative.
Pre-emption invokes a paradox for conservatives, like Mr. Abbott, who have long extolled the virtues of local control in some areas, like education, but now say uniform standards are necessary in others.
“It has seemed hypocritical that the state wants the federal government to give the states more power, yet at the state level, they want to take power away from cities and counties,” Mr. Hodges, the Fort Stockton official, said in a telephone interview.
James Quintero, the director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said the pre-emption of city power was “new to the conservative movement here in Texas.” Still, he was ready to counter accusations of hypocrisy: “What we’re arguing is that liberty, not local control, is the overriding principle that state and local policy makers should be using.”