Last month, I wrote about a disturbing trend: States are passing “preemption” laws that prohibit a growing number of cities and counties from adopting their own paid sick days standards. Sadly, these misguided attacks on local democracy have been spreading rapidly, as legislators put the interests of the national big business lobby ahead of the interests of their constituents. Now, there are paid sick days preemption bills or laws in 13 states.
This trend is no coincidence. In fact, it is a well-coordinated effort to thwart paid sick days bills just as momentum for this common sense policy continues to build. We know that the National Restaurant Association circulated a draft preemption bill at a 2011 meeting of the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Since then, the association and other groups have been working behind the scenes to advance very similar bills.
Take the case of Florida. Eighty percent of Floridians say that workers should be able to earn paid sick days, and six in 10 want localities to be able to make their own laws. But Florida legislators refuse to listen to voters. Instead, big business associations and local power players like Disney and Darden Restaurants have convinced them to shut down local governments’ ability to pass their own paid sick days standards. It is shameful that the same state legislators who claim to be for “local government” are pushing through a policy that essentially ties its hands.
Michigan’s battle against preemption is also ongoing. As Working America points out, legislators in the state who have railed against “big government intrusion” have changed their tune to fulfill the wishes of the business lobby. As in Florida, Michigan voters say that workers should be able to earn paid sick days. They know that if Michigan’s preemption bill passes, it will be families — like the moms who make up the local advocacy group Mothering Justice and their kids — who will suffer most.
This same pattern is repeating itself across the country: Louisiana. Mississippi. Kansas. Tennessee. Arizona. A preemption bill is introduced — usually by a legislator who is an ALEC member, and usually with the support of the big business lobby — and then it’s fast-tracked through the legislature and quietly signed by the governor. In these five states, the new laws preempt not only paid sick days, but also local minimum wage and other ordinances proven to improve workers’ lives.
The bill in Arizona — now law — is particularly disturbing. In 2006, Arizona voters passed a statewide ballot measure forbidding the legislature from doing exactly what it just did: preempting local wage and benefits standards. According to the state constitution, the legislature must meet certain strict requirements to overturn a voter-approved measure. It hasn’t done so, making the preemption bill illegal and open to litigation. Arizonans can thank legislators like the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Thomas Forese (an ALEC member), for the costly lawsuit that will almost certainly be filed.
The Indiana bill is also troubling. In addition to preempting workers’ rights, it may overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances meant to protect the right of LGBT individuals to keep their jobs.
The other states considering preemption legislation are Alabama and South Carolina. The South Carolina bill was introduced by an ALEC Task Force chair, Rep. William Sandifer, and is being pushed through quickly and under the radar, leaving concerned advocates little time to speak out.
Washington and Oklahoma also considered preemption bills in 2013, but those bills have not passed.
Almost all of these preemption bills have been pushed through quietly, without the knowledge of activists or legislators who might ask questions about their provenance and usefulness. But, as the intent of the big business lobby becomes clearer, and as it becomes more obvious that these bills have nothing to do with the well-being of states or their residents, sponsors will surely have a tougher time defending their attempts to usurp power from the people to whom it truly belongs: voters.