Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Pandemic and 2020 elections spur some state legislatures' efforts to assert more control over local governments

Over the past year there has been "a trend toward states pre-empting local laws and ordinances, a movement fueled by the twin calamities of Covid-19 and the chaos surrounding the 2020 elections," Elaine Povich reports for Stateline. "The pandemic provoked conflicts between state and local governments—particularly in cities run by Democrats and states controlled by Republicans—when it came to Covid-19 rules such as mask ordinances and regulations on when businesses could open and at what capacity. And the false claims by former President Donald Trump of widespread election fraud emboldened state elected officials to wrest control of elections from local officials."

Georgia illustrates the trend, which is essentially a rural-urban conflict. Last year in Athens-Clarke County, commissioners proposed cutting police funding and spending the money on preventive measures such as mental health and social services. "The bill didn’t pass, but the idea alone so outraged the Georgia legislature that lawmakers decreed it would not happen on their watch," Povich reports. "The legislature passed a bill that would restrict similar measures in Athens or any other Georgia county or city." Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has indicted his support for the bill but hasn't signed it yet.

Republican Rep. Houston Gaines, who represents Athens and sponsored the bill, told Fox News he supports local control, "but when you have local governments that are out of control and they’re putting their communities and families in those communities at risk, that’s where I believe we have to step in."

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Mariah Parker, a Democrat who supported the funding resolution, told Povich: "You have to admire the contradiction in terms when these members of the Republican Party ... claim a desire for smaller government. . . . To have that from folks who might not have their ear to the ground in our local community is frustrating."

Georgia also recently strengthened the state's control over how counties run elections, a move emulated by South Carolina's legislature, Povich notes. Other state governments have stepped in to pre-empt local control over issues including local housing regulations, plastic-bag bans, and firearm restrictions.

No comments: