How Preemption Affects City-Level Public Policymaking

Research Team: Lainie Rutkow, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Jon Vernick, Professor of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Preemption refers to the ability of a higher level of government to legally prevent, or preempt, a lower level of government from acting. In the U.S., the federal and state governments use preemption for several reasons. The federal government may, for example, seek to establish a strong, consistent national standard (e.g., for safety devices in cars). On the other hand, a state government may use preemption to ensure that local governments do not regulate in a certain area (e.g., clean indoor air). The state may do this because it has passed its own law, and does not want a “patchwork” of additional – and possibly conflicting – local laws. When states preempt local action, however, policy innovation may be stifled, leaving cities with little room to experiment with policies intended to address their unique needs. For this project, we will use an online survey to examine preemption from the perspective of the local policymakers who are actually affected by it. Specifically, we seek to understand areas in which cities have faced preemption, whether preemption was found to help or hinder policymaking, and what resources might help cities to address preemption.

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