This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"Government closest to the people," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has said, "governs best." He's right and he might want to remind his fellow Republicans of the principle.
Republican-led state legislatures are increasingly pre-empting local governments from taking action on a wide variety of issues. Often pushed by representatives of rural areas, these laws are blocking local innovation, infringing on the rights of urban constituencies and stopping the kinds of experiments that, when successful, can spread nationally.
The 2016 Republican Party platform is full of paeans to local authority. Mass transit is "an inherently local affair" and "zoning decisions have always been, and must remain, under local control." Minimum wage levels "should be handled at the state and local level." Yet on these and other matters, the party's state legislators have been monopolizing power.
Republicans in Tennessee effectively blocked Nashville from creating a bus rapid transit system and implementing zoning laws intended to increase affordable housing. Half of all states now prevent localities from setting their own minimum wages. Nearly as many have blocked municipal paid-leave laws. Local action on gun safety, soda taxes, and LGBT rights has all been targeted, too and with increasing frequency.
To be fair, this is not just a Republican problem. Earlier this year, Democrats in New York's state capital voided a fee on plastic bags adopted by the New York City Council.
Yet the problem runs deepest in red states, and Texas provides an especially egregious example. In its regular session that ended in late spring, the state legislature stripped localities of their authority to require background checks for drivers that work for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, prohibited localities from adopting construction-related fees to help fund affordable housing, and limited the size of the fee that cities can charge for the use of public property.
Apparently, that wasn't enough. Governor Greg Abbott has called the legislature back for a special summer session to consider 20 other issues, many of which would further curtail local authority. One, known as the "bathroom bill," would prohibit cities from allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds with their identity. Business leaders have lined up against it, apparently unwilling to repeat North Carolina's disastrous experience, and the Republican house speaker has opposed it.
As a general matter, governments at all levels should stay out of bedrooms and bathrooms. And wherever possible, states should stay out of the way of cities. There will be times when regulatory uniformity is necessary, but states should give greater deference and Republicans should offer more than lip service to the principle of local control.