States saying ‘no’ to cities seeking to regulate businesses

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Alarmed about cities trying to outlaw plastic bags, the director of the Missouri Grocers Association decided to do something about it. So Dan Shaul turned to his state legislator— himself — and guided a bill to passage barring local governments from banning the bags.

Shaul’s dual role in state government and business may be a bit out of the norm. Yet his actions are not. In capitols across the country, businesses are increasingly using their clout to back laws prohibiting cities and counties from doing things that might affect their ability to make money.

In the past five years, roughly a dozen states have enacted laws barring local governments from requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave to employees. The number of states banning local minimum wages has grown to 15. And while oil-rich states such as Texas and Oklahoma are pursuing bills banning local restrictions on drilling, other states where agriculture is big business have been banning local limitations on the types of seeds sown for crops.

It seems no issue is too small for businesses to take to capitol halls.

Wisconsin has banned local bans on sugary drinks. Arizona and Florida have barred local governments from forbidding toys in fast-food meals. And Utah has barred cities from requiring bicyclists to be served in drive-thru lanes.

In each case, states have stepped in after city officials somewhere in the nation proposed local policies that business leaders didn’t like. Businesses have warned lawmakers that a potential patchwork of local regulations could be bad for the economy.

“We need to give companies and businesses some predictability and some consistency in their operations so that they can grow,” said Shaul, a freshman Republican representative from the St. Louis suburb of Imperial, whose anti-bag ban measure is pending before Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

Environmental activists in Columbia, who pushed for the ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, were jolted by the state intervention.

“I was horrified, just really demoralized,” when the legislation passed, said Sierra Club member Jan Dye. “They just want to remove local control.”

The Missouri bill goes beyond plastic bags. It also would also prohibit local governments from requiring businesses to provide employees paid sick leave, vacation or health, disability and retirement benefits. And it would block cities and counties from adopting their own “living wage” requirements.

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Source: Associated Press