Legal battles between cities and states are expected to intensify in the coming months with dust-ups over municipal broadband networks, paid sick leave and affordable housing policies at the forefront.
Why it matters: After some high-profile disputes with governors over pandemic-related restrictions, some mayors are emboldened in pushing back on state laws prohibiting city-level policies that, they say, will be important to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- "When states handcuff cities, they don't have the flexibility, autonomy or policies in place to deal with emergencies," said Kim Haddow, director of the Local Solutions Support Center. "These are three areas that, if they'd been in place before the pandemic, cities would have been in a better position to respond to the crisis."
1. Community-run broadband networks: 19 states have legal barriers or bans on municipal-owned broadband networks.
- This impacts millions of schoolchildren who may still be grappling with remote learning in the fall and at-home workers who are more reliant on an internet connection.
"You have the dual effect of communities that are completely disconnected in a world that is more interconnected than ever before, combined with the realization that telecommuting is effective. Cities wanting to be competitive are looking at ways to move that forward." — Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin
Where it stands: More than 500 communities have some sort of publicly owned broadband networks, per the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
- Some states— like Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina — have eased restrictions on phone and electric cooperatives to facilitate broadband in rural areas where private providers are unlikely to invest.
2. Paid sick leave: About 40% of service sector workers don't have paid sick leave, including many of the essential workers who are still on the job during the pandemic.
- That leaves tens of millions of workers with a very difficult decision if they get sick: Go to work and risk infecting others or stay at home and lose their paycheck.
- Only 13 states and Washington, D.C., require paid sick leave, while 20 states have passed laws preempting cities from requiring employers to provide paid sick leave.
- A new CityHealth poll shows 78% of Americans support paid sick leave for U.S. workers.
"Never has it been more important that people have the ability not to go into a workplace, and the public really gets that now."— Shelley Hearne, CityHealth president
Where it stands: Despite the pandemic, a federal judge in March blocked Dallas from enforcing a local ordinance requiring private employers to offer paid sick leave, per the Dallas Morning News. Similar ordinances have been blocked in San Antonio and Austin, with Austin appealing to the Texas Supreme Court.
3. Affordable housing: A number of cities and states have implemented eviction moratoriums to give relief to renters suddenly out of work, but some are already expiring.
- Rent strikes and #CancelRent rallies are trying to focus policymakers' attention on the severe lack of affordable housing that could lead to spikes in homelessness as the pandemic drags on.
Where it stands: Despite a dramatic expansion of tenants' rights laws over the past few years with rent control laws in New York, Oregon and California, 31 states have statewide laws preempting rent control, said Haddow.
- In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is under pressure to use his emergency powers to repeal the state's ban on rent regulation, but Pritzker has deferred to the state legislature, per the Chicago Tribune.