Analysis: Preemption is ‘heavy-handed’ tool to suppress local governments

Municipalities in Florida that want to ban single-use shopping bags run into opposition at the state level. Marharyto Marko/Getty Images

Policy analysts said Monday that state lawmakers’ use of a strategy called preemption is increasingly striking down local government decisions, particularly progressive regulations more popular in Florida’s largely Democratic cities than in the Republican-led Florida Legislature.

“The use of preemption as a strategy by the Florida Legislature has become heavy-handed,” said Ben Wilcox, research director at Integrity Florida and co-author of the policy analysis “The Attack on Home Rule in Florida.”

The report, co-authored with research associate Alan Stonecipher, says preemption strategy suppresses so-called “rogue” local governments that adopt policies opposed by the political party in power.

Integrity Florida is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog.

Many preemption bills are backed by corporate interests such as Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Retail Federation and Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which favor uniformity in business regulations throughout the state.

Preemption also is used by Democrat-led legislatures, Wilcox said. What’s new, he said, is that it has become more widespread, more politicized and more intense, leading to a new batch of labels to describe them: “maximum preemption, blanket preemption, nuclear preemption and super-preemption.”

Local governments view preemption as state meddling in local affairs, as expressed by the National League of Cities, the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.

The” Attack on Home Rule” report calls for curtailment of preemption, citing three ways to do it:

/Require super-majority approval (two-thirds, rather than half plus one) of legislation that preempts local government authority

/Mandate a single-subject requirement for preemption legislation

/Prohibit imposition of fines and penalties on local governments that violate legislative preemptions.