New Orleans Can’t Solve its Local Problems Because the State of Louisiana Won’t Let it.

Jeff Thomas Think 504

The State of Louisiana continues to stifle the growth of the City of New Orleans. New Orleans legislators’ bills to change the city are killed at the state level. The state legislature spurns progressive improvements for issues like gun control, increased minimum wage, police reform, crime reduction and economic development. Meanwhile, the state legislature promotes and passes bills that threaten the financial strength of New Orleans. This continues a decades old tradition that only serves to retard the state. How can this happen and why? And why would the state ranked 50th in nearly every meaningful ranking continue to attack the cash cow of the legislature?

States have the right to create laws that affect every citizen of the state. In fact, the 10th Amendment guarantees states’ rights. So, states have the right to local governance. What’s legal in Illinois could be illegal in Louisiana. Like abortion. Recreational marijuana use is legal in Nevada, but you will be arrested in Metairie if you have an ounce of weed. The overriding principle is that the federal government should not interfere with the states’ rights to govern themselves.

For cities in American states, no such protection exists. In fact, the opposite is the normal practice, especially in the South. The notion that people should have the right to self-governance dies at the city level. Preemption is a legal doctrine. Preemption doctrine refers to the idea that a higher authority of law will displace the law of a lower authority of law when the two authorities come into conflict. States use this doctrine to control cities. In fact, Southern states historically used preemption to control the lives of African Americans. From property ownership in the early 1800’s to control of the police department of Jackson, Ms. In 2023, states still regulate Black lives using preemption.
An ugly attempt recently failed in the most recent Louisiana legislative session. Children’s privacy protection is a universally sacred right. Every state in the union rigorously protects the identity of children from predators and public scorn. But some Louisiana radicals proposed revealing the identity of some minors who are accused of a crime. Not convicted. Accused. But not all minors. Just the ones in the three Blackest cities in the state. Even though the New Orleans City Charter protects the identity of these minors, state law could have preempted this regulation and exposed our children’s identities.

The use of preemption is rooted in racism in Southern states. The 1866 Massacre of New Orleans resulted from hostile Whites seeking control. They rejected seating African Americans in the legislature. And the hostile Whites rejected proposed changes to local laws granting African American men the right to vote. They killed scores of peaceful demonstrators who sought to make these improvements.

Louisiana is a red state. Louisiana also has large urban centers led by Democrats. The attacks on big Democratically led cities happen all over the country. But in the South the attacks are shocking and savage. The Mississippi legislature took over the capital city police department. Twenty-five states, including Louisiana, bar municipalities from raising the minimum wage. In the South, attacks on the LGBTQ community are pervasive. Florida and Ron DeSantis preempt numerous housing laws. Numerous states rolled back cities ability to reform and divert funds from their police departments.

State Uses Preemption to Stall Progress
The shift from a practical tool that helps municipalities with conflicting laws to a weapon for extremists is troubling. Preemption is weaponized. So, cities have little choice but to creatively maximize control of local regulations. According to the National League of Cities, in this era of extreme preemption cities must have a threefold approach to combat the issue.

Communicate the Problem
Build a Coalition
Pursue Litigation

This is why your choice for governor is so important. An extreme governor might ratchet up this state takeover even more. The most ironic thing about the Louisiana situation is that New Orleans is the cash cow of the state. If they ruin what we have down here, that might be a mortal wound to the entire state. But if the state is already 50th anyway….

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