Democratic-Dominated Cities Pass Measures That Could Conflict With State Laws

This piece comes to us courtesy of Stateline. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

Republicans have seized their largest state lawmaking majorities since the 1920s, but many Democratic-dominated cities are likely to take matters into their own hands this year by passing progressive measures that go beyond or even conflict with state laws.

On issues ranging from the minimum wage to fracking to drones, a number of cities acted on their own in 2014, and the trend is expected to continue—even in states where Democrats control state government. Meanwhile, some states are pushing back by barring local governments from adopting such measures.

“I think the cities have the political will and consensus to move when the federal government and the state may be paralyzed or polarized,” said James Brooks, city solutions director for the National League of Cities. “City leaders are implementing the things citizens seem to want, and voters seem to be supportive of all of this.”

Some cities are pushing beyond state law even in Democratic states. But the tension is particularly high in states where Republicans control state government but the big cities are heavily Democratic.

Republicans will be in charge of 68 of 99 state legislative chambers and 31 governorships in 2015. But of the 15 largest big cities, 11 voted for President Barack Obama in 2012. More than 53 percent of voters living in metropolitan areas with more than one million people supported Obama, while 45 percent voted for Republican Mitt Romney.

Jocelyn Johnston, an associate professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, said that many cities are embracing progressive policies because states just aren’t on the same wavelength.

“Urban areas can’t go to the legislature to get their voice heard,” Johnston said, “so they’re going to do something in-house. That’s why this is happening. Most state legislatures are not as liberal as urban interests are.”

In the past two years, for example, Austin, Texas, banned plastic shopping bags, Lincoln, Nebraska, said no to police drones, and Philadelphia became the largest city in the nation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Texas is dominated by Republicans, Nebraska’s legislature is heavily conservative (though officially nonpartisan) and Pennsylvania Republicans held the governor’s office and the legislature at the time Philadelphia passed its ordinance.


Labor Battleground

Labor issues have prompted many of the city-state clashes—and not only in Republican-dominated states.

For example, more than a dozen cities have passed measures mandating sick leave for people who work in the private sector. Seattle, Portland (Oregon) and Jersey City, which are located in states…

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