Two proposals have been introduced during this year’s legislative session that would prevent local governments from implementing their own rules on plastic-bag bans and minimum-wage levels. The measures follow similar trends in other states.
BOISE— Idaho lawmakers are reminding cities and counties that they don’t always have local control over imposing restrictions on businesses and citizens.
Two proposals have been introduced during this year’s legislative session that would prevent local governments from implementing their own rules on plastic-bag bans and minimum-wage levels. The measures follow similar trends nationwide where states have stepped in after city officials have proposed local policies that businesses or lawmakers didn’t like.
“You have to remember this, not only are cities but also counties, are creatures of the state,” said Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. “I don’t think it is out of character or out of their responsibility for the state — in a very limited way — to continue to have oversight.”
Otter declined to say if he agreed with the most recent proposals but said they wouldn’t impede on individual choice to avoid a plastic bag or find a job at a higher wage.
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Other states have stepped up to bar local municipalities from regulating drilling and limiting the types of seeds sown for crops, as well as providing employees paid sick leave, vacation or health, disability and retirement.
In Idaho, cities and counties are banned from setting their own regulations on guns, water quality, tax policy and timber. Democratic lawmakers oppose such measures, saying their conservative colleagues blast the federal government for similar actions.
“I think it’s a real shame; local control is part of our heritage,” said Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise. “Different communities have different concerns.”
However, the GOP supermajority said the measures are needed to prevent a mish-mashed set of laws across the state that could make it difficult for businesses to thrive. Both pre-emption bills introduced this year are pushed by business interest groups.
“Some of the things you see being pushed by interest groups is to make their job a little easier,” said Jaclyn Kettler, an assistant professor of political science at Boise State University. “It’s becoming a big trend.”
Furthermore, statehouses have become more Republican in recent years, which can conflict with the pockets of progressive cities inside state lines. Idaho is one of the 24 states totally controlled by Republicans, who hold the governor’s seat and both chambers of the state legislature. It’s also one of the 30 Legislatures with Republican-dominated chambers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Increasingly for cities, you see Democrats voted into local office,” Kettler said. “So they’ve been battling the state for control.”
For example, one of Idaho’s perennial legislative debates has centered on whether to give local government more options on raising revenue. Municipalities are almost entirely reliant on property taxes, which are capped in how much they can increase each year. Local officials have requested permission to use a local-option tax, but Republicans don’t want to pass a perceived tax increase.
Meanwhile, central Idaho’s Blaine County has become a rare swing legislative district. The more liberal-leaning city of Hailey tried to pass a plastic-bag ban in 2011. The proposal would have slapped retailers who ignored the ban with a $50 daily fine. In northern Idaho, McCall and Coeur d’Alene saw attempts to increase the local minimum wage, which failed to gain enough votes to pass.