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How ALEC, ACCE, and Preemption Laws are Gutting the Powers of American Cities

Publication Date: 9/9/2016
  • Author:Henry Grabar
  • Publication:Slate.com

The Shackling of the American City

Local governments want to set their own minimum wages, gun laws, and smoking bans. And statehouses have methodically stripped away their powers to do so.

...Bill 23 is an example of state pre-emption, a tactic that has quietly come to exert a powerful influence on American civic life during a time of political impasse in Washington. The federal government sometimes pre-empts state laws—as Congress did in nullifying Vermont’s food-labeling law in July—but more often, pre-emption is a tool used by conservative statehouses to restrict the ability of cities, towns, and counties to chart their own destiny...

ALEC has successfully pushed pre-emption into more and more areas of GOP policy, from guns and tobacco to sanctuary cities, pesticides, and even municipal broadband. The tactic has consumed state-level lawmaking as American political life has become increasingly polarized between Republican-led statehouses (the most since the 1920s) and Democrat-controlled cities (almost all of the nation’s largest). Thanks in part to ALEC’s promotion of the concept, pre-emption has become the most powerful statehouse tactic of our time...

Pre-emption is two centuries old, but its practice exploded with the lobbying efforts, through ALEC and other groups, of the tobacco industry, followed by the National Rifle Association. In the early 1990s, as tobacco bills were handed out at ALEC conferences and new legislators were greeted with free cigarettes, states were passing dozens of tobacco pre-emption bills a year...