NEW REPORT: State Preemption and the Threat to Progress and Equality

North Carolina’s HB2 was a terrible bill for many reasons. Not only did it ban transgender people from accessing restrooms, it also prevented local cities from (1) protecting their residents from discrimination and (2) from raising the local minimum wage. How?

The state legislature reversed a local law protecting LGBT people and prevented any other city in the state from protecting LGBT people or raising the minimum wage, through a tactic called “preemption.” This tactic is part of an increasingly common strategy by state legislatures throughout the country to limit local progress on a wide range of issues, from the minimum wage and paid leave to pro-immigrant policies and LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances. Although the reasoning behind current state preemption efforts can vary, the impact remains the same: tying the hands of local lawmakers and preventing them from providing the protections they know match their residents’ values and are needed in their communities.

MAP’s latest report, The Power of State Preemption: Preventing Progress and Threatening Equality, shows the spread and impact of these efforts, both across the country and across a wide range of issues including LGBT equality. This report was developed in partnership with A Better BalanceEquality Federation, Family Values @ Work, and the Local Solutions Support Center.

In the absence of state leadership to protect LGBT people from discrimination, local ordinances have been instrumental stepping stones toward statewide nondiscrimination protections. Yet, anti-LGBT activists have leveraged preemption efforts to target LGBT equality in at least two key ways:  hindering local nondiscrimination ordinances (often by targeting transgender people and restricting restroom access), and preventing cities from banning harmful conversion therapy practices used against LGBT youth.

 

However, state preemption isn’t only an LGBT issue. More than 20 states have preemption laws that prevent cities from increasing their local minimum wage or from guaranteeing local workers paid sick leave. Nine states forbid cities from passing sanctuary city ordinances or taking other similar measures to protect their immigrant residents–and in 2017 alone, 33 more states considered similar bills preventing pro-immigrant policies. When preemption is used in this way–to set a maximum rather than minimum level of protections–there are drastic consequences for cities and states alike, including:

  • Leaving residents open to discrimination
  • Placing special interests and profits over local residents
  • Hurting workers, and especially low-income communities
  • Limiting cities’ abilities to create diverse, thriving local economics
  • Hamstringing local officials’ ability to do what is right for their cities