The state’s control over local control

State lawmakers boast about being defenders of the time honored tradition of local control except when it serves their purposes to ignore it.

The battle over so-called preemption probably goes back to when the founding fathers, there were no founding mothers at the table, sought to form a more perfect union. How much control do you give to the state and how much to the locals? The pursuit of a perfect answer still alludes our current politicians.

With the GOP controlling 69 of the legislature bodies around the country, including in Michigan, the R’s often get blamed for eroding local control but Democrats have done it too.

Here in Michigan in recent days local governments have been told to back off their local ordinances to ban certain breeds of dogs. This is mostly aimed at those sometimes little vicious critters known as pit bulls that in some towns have terrorized neighborhoods. Local officials tell Lansing they are the ones closest to the citizenry and if their local folks want to ban pit bulls, Lansing should back off attempts to ban those bans.

The issue was up for a Senate Judiciary vote recently as the pro-pit bulls lobby, if there is such thing, noted that allowing local ordinances “would infringe on all responsible dog owners.”

But a township trustee, waving the local control flag, summed it up with, “I don’t like the idea of Lansing telling us what to do.”

That flag also waves over another business-driven effort to ban local government from deciding what questions can be asked on a job application, namely how much did you earn in your previous jobs.

On a nearly party line vote, R’s yes and D’s no, the state said cities you can’t stop business from making the inquiry.

The chamber of commerce contends it helps those businesses decide if they can afford to hire somebody. The other side counters, asking the question does little if anything to close the wage gap between men and women.

Sen. John Proos (R-West Michigan) who is pushing the measure contends, “it is not local government’s role to place restrictions on private business.”

And let’s face it. Business loves it when it can persuade lawmakers in the capitol to do its bidding vs. having to lobby every little city council and township board between Monroe and Marquette to get what it wants.

Business also argues that if you allow one city to do this and another that, the so-called “patchwork” of regulations is a burden on business. But others would say that’s the price you pay for having local control.

The business argument prevailed during a recent debate over allowing locals to impose a tax on pop, chewing gum and food. In a preemptive strike, because no city has proposed such a tax, the Senate voted to tie the hands of the locals from doing that.

Ditto when it comes to banning plastic bags that are blowing around everywhere. It should come as no shock that liberal-minded Ann Arbor has been at the forefront of these bans but each time, they’ve been shot down by Lansing.

Locals have tried to regulate the minimum wage, e-cigarettes, sick leave for workers, and protect the LGBTQ community form housing and job discrimination and have failed every time.

The gay rights issue is a classic example where a statewide law could extend these protections without forcing advocates to tackle this city by city. But lawmakers have refused to expand the state’s civil right act and are considering a measure to prevent locals from doing that on their own.

Ultimately in Michigan, there is a method for circumventing these preemptive laws by going around the legislature with a statewide petition drive. It is costly, time consuming, and unless you are paying three bucks for each petition signature, those drives are pretty much doomed to fail.

Which means Lansing will continue to selectively exert power over the locals while at the same time suggesting they honor local control. In the biz they call that having in both ways.


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