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Preemption Primer: Blocking Local Government from Protecting LGBTQ People

Around the country, cities and counties are taking steps to promote progress and to protect their residents on a range of issues including raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing paid sick days, updating their nondiscrimination ordinances to protect LGBTQ people, and enacting policies that promote immigrant rights, environmental protection, public health, gun safety, and more.

However, many state legislatures are trying to limit these efforts through “preemption,” or state laws that block or prevent local governments from passing laws and protections needed in their communities, often overturning local laws already on the books.  Currently Pennsylvania has more than 46 municpalities with such laws. This is often part of a coordinated effort by state legislatures and outside special interests to decrease regulation and undermine local control. As a result, these recent preemption efforts are a clear threat to local democracy and LGBTQ equality.

A new report from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), The Power of State Preemption: Preventing Progress and Threatening Equality, shows the spread and impact of these efforts, both across the country and across a wide range of issues including LGBT equality. This report was developed in partnership with A Better Balance,  Equality FederationFamily Values @ Work, and the Local Solutions Support Center.

How do these laws impact LGBT people?

In the absence of state leadership to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, local ordinances have been instrumental stepping stones toward statewide nondiscrimination protections. Yet, anti-LGBTQ activists have leveraged preemption efforts to target LGBTQ equality in at least two key ways:  hindering local nondiscrimination ordinances (often by targeting transgender people and restricting restroom access), and preventing cities from banning harmful conversion therapy practices used against LGBTQ youth.

However, state preemption isn’t only an LGBTQ issue. More than 20 states have preemption laws that prevent cities from increasing their local minimum wage or from guaranteeing local workers paid sick leave. Nine states forbid cities from passing sanctuary city ordinances or taking other similar measures to protect their immigrant residents–and in 2017 alone, 33 more states considered similar bills preventing pro-immigrant policies. When preemption is used in this way–to set a maximum rather than minimum level of protections–there are drastic consequences for cities and states alike.

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