As I write this, we’re getting close to the end of the state legislature session. The big story right now is education funding (which I support 100 percent; my mom was a school teacher and I taught GED/ABE/ESOL through the FUSD for five years), but I want to take a moment to talk about something that I think doesn’t get enough attention and has serious repercussions at the local level. The issue is preemption.
In my years of public service, I have noticed a dramatic uptick in laws that tell cities that they cannot do something. For example, due to current law, we cannot legally regulate plastic bags or vacation rentals. The state legislature, with the help of an eager governor, continually imposes restrictions on the solutions communities can develop to solve local problems. I think that’s a problem.
Arizona even has what’s called the “mother of all preemption laws,” which allows the state to deprive cities of stated-shared revenue owed to them should we do something audacious, like ban plastic bags anyway. The results of this are being felt across the state. Tucson had to end a gun buyback program. Bisbee had to end its plastic bag ban. And here in Flagstaff, as residents, we continue to pay approximately $180,000 a year to clean up plastic bags rather than eliminate them and use that money to address other critical needs.
This is bad news for government, as cities are policy laboratories: we can try out innovative policy solutions that are developed by community members and implement them much easier than you could on a state or national level. Cities face affordable housing shortages and traffic issues. We should be permitted to use any available tool to address these challenges. By enacting these preemption laws, the governor and the legislature are stifling innovation.
Recently, a new trend has surfaced. Governor Ducey and the legislature don’t just want to tie the hands of local policy makers, they want to also tie the hands of the voters. The residents of Tempe recently passed an ordinance that required spending on local elections to be disclosed. It passed easily, nine out of 10 Tempe voters supported the initiative. Then Governor Ducey signed a bill that stipulates Arizona cities cannot require transparency in election spending, and it goes further and makes any efforts to identify where dark money is coming from off limits. This law preempts the will of the voters in favor of shady election contributions.
Preemption is not only a problem, it’s a threat to democracy. FBN
By Coral Evans
Coral Evans is the mayor of the City of Flagstaff.