Who decides? Conservative Republicans in Texas are split on the issue. Darren Hodges, a Tea Party councilman in the West Texas city of Fort Stockton, fiercely defends his town’s recent decision to ban plastic bags. City officials have a “God-given right” to make that decision he tells the New York Times.
James Quintero of the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation disagrees, “What we’re arguing is that liberty, not local control, is the overriding principle that state and local policy makers should be using.” He apparently would strip communities of the right of local control, at least to regulate commercial behavior. Quintero is Director of TPPF’s Center for Local Governance. Perhaps they should change the “for” to “against.”
The new Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott stands with Quintero. In a speech last month to the TPPF he condemned how democracy run amok threatens Texas with becoming “California-ized.” “Large cities that represent about 75 percent of the population in this state are doing this to us,” he declared. Huh? Who does Abbott think are “us?” Might not 75 percent of the population more accurately be described as “we the people?”
Despite the Governor’s comments the debate about local authority in Texas appears vigorous. The demise of local democracy is by no means foreordained. About a dozen Texas cities already banned plastic bags before Fort Stockton. The Times reports that many Texas cities restrict texting while driving. Twenty Texas cities approved identical ordinances that curb the interest payday lenders can charge.
In other Republican states the debate has been far less robust and public. In state after state a clear pattern has emerged. Cities legislatively address a local problem. Big business complains. State legislatures clamp down. And as Republicans become more conservative and gain control of more state governments the pace and intensity of those clamp downs have increased.
Nineteen states currently preempt local minimum wage laws: Half of these laws were enacted in the last 5 years. Nineteen states restrict or abolish the right of communities to build municipally owned broadband networks. At least five states have preempted local regulation of e-cigarettes.
These efforts to circumscribe local authority often have been led and coordinated by the non-profit conservative organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC insists it does no lobbying but if it walks like a duck…
Consider ALEC’s role in fostering state preemptions of municipal ordinances demanding that private businesses offer employees sick leave. A few months after Scott Walker shepherded a bill through the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 repealing a Milwaukee sick leave law approved by a 2008 ballot initiative supported by 69 percent of the voters, ALEC passed out copies of the bill at its Annual Meeting. Legislators were handed a target list and map of state and local paid sick leave policies. In the next three years 10 more states had replicated the Wisconsin law. (In the next few weeks Missouri may become the 11th.) Continue reading