Tuesday, December 10, 2019

New data released by the Center and the National League of Cities examines state-level preemption in 12 policy domains, providing a detailed outline of the extent of state efforts to prevent localities from passing laws.

The policy domains include ban-the-box, firearms, mandatory inclusionary zoning, municipal broadband, mandatory paid leave, rent control, and six types of tax expenditure limitations that restrict a local government’s ability to set, assess, or levy property taxes. These include full disclosure tax requirements (also called “truth in taxation”), general revenue limits, general expenditure limits, property tax rate limits, tax assessment limits, and tax levy limits.

“Local leaders need to be able to serve their residents — the people they see everyday on the street, at the store, at high school football games — without state interference. Unfortunately, there has been a growing trend of states preempting local governments,” said Spencer Wagner, a program specialist at the National League of Cities. “This research shines a light on the restrictive nature of many of the biggest preemptions, and helps both local leaders and researchers navigate and advocate a better future.”

A few notable trends emerged from the data:

  • Preemption varies state by state. Preemption is prevalent across the United States, but some states preempt local governments more frequently than others. Hawaii is the only state in the US without preemption in any of the 12 domains captured in this dataset.
  • Preemption prevalence varies by policy domain. Some domains are more widely preempted than others, including firearms, rent control, and most tax expenditure limits.
  • Preemption creates policy vacuums. In the paid sick leave domain, 20 states prevent localities from passing paid sick leave laws. Eleven of those states have statewide paid sick leave laws, but nine states do not. These nine states create a policy vacuum where there is neither a statewide law, nor the option for localities to pass a law of their own -- leaving residents without a paid sick leave policy available to them.

“Unlike more overt laws that are known to regulate everyday behaviors – such as those that require you to buckle your seatbelt in a car or mandate restaurant inspections to ensure food safety –preemption laws are amorphous. Preemption as a legal tool may be less well-known or largely misunderstood, but it has a real impact on regulating daily activities from internet accessibility to whether we must disclose a criminal history on a job application,” said Lindsay K. Cloud, JD, Director of the Center for Public Health Law Research’s Policy Surveillance Program.

“Policy surveillance captures and measures state preemption laws creating the high-quality data necessary to evaluate the impact of these laws on health, well-being, and equity in cities and counties across the country,” Cloud explained.

This dataset is the first release from a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that establishes annual surveillance of preemption law for the next two years.


The Center for Public Health Law Research at the Temple University Beasley School of law supports the widespread adoption of scientific tools and methods for mapping and evaluating the impact of law on health. Learn more at http://phlr.org.

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