Tag Archives: local government

What Republicans really mean by ‘states’ rights’ and ‘individual liberty’

According to Republican Party orthodoxy, the federal government is a greedy, malevolent giant that must be contained before it swallows up states’ autonomy and imposes the liberalism of intellectual elites on “real” Americans — who happen to be white, straight, evangelical Christians.

But the states’ rights cheerleaders and big-government foes have a serious hypocrisy problem: They consider federal intervention perfectly appropriate when it comes to forcing their own views on other people.

Take pot, for instance.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions believes states should not be allowed to legalize medical and recreational marijuana use as long as federal law bans it.

One of Sessions’ arguments is that having a checkerboard of different marijuana policies in the nation creates jurisdictional chaos and unwanted pot spillover from states where marijuana is legal into adjacent states where it isn’t.

Sessions also argues that marijuana use increases crime, even though the opposite is true. Taking marijuana sales out of the hands of organized crime and drug gangs and instead making it a controlled substance can decrease the crime that comes with illegal activity and save a fortune in law enforcement and incarceration costs.

Not to mention that the criminalization of pot is largely to blame for the high rate of incarceration among young African-American males in cities such as Milwaukee.

So how will Sessions handle the marijuana issue? States’ rights?

States such as Colorado, where legal pot added nearly $2.4 billion and over 18,000 full-time jobs to the state’s economy in 2015, have a lot riding on the elderly ex-senator from Alabama.

When it comes to same-sex marriage and transgender bathroom rights, however, Sessions and the rest of his ilk embrace the state-based checkerboard: They believe that states should be able to create their own laws. Damn the evidence of the many legal problems that leaving it to the states caused for same-sex couples as well as local authorities before the Supreme Court struck down state gay marriage bans.

Liberty, except when (fill in the blank)

In Wisconsin, we’ve seen our Republican leaders wave the flag of “liberty” while centralizing control of municipal and county governments. They’re all for individual liberty — except for a woman’s individual liberty to control what goes on inside her body, the liberty of Wisconsinites suffering from Parkinson’s disease to use marijuana to alleviate their symptoms, the liberty of consumers to order contact lenses from overseas, or the liberty of landowners to prevent oil companies from burying pipelines on their properties.

Municipal sovereignty has fared as badly under Republican control as individual liberty has. For example, Wisconsin municipalities can’t set their own water quality standards or enact bans on firearms that are stricter than state laws. They can’t change the minimum wage within their jurisdiction.

Wisconsin is tied with the other Republican states of Tennessee, Michigan, Louisiana and Florida for having the second largest number of state intrusions on municipal ordinance or authority. Those five areas concern: minimum wage, paid leave, ride sharing, municipal broadband, and tax and expenditure limits. North Carolina is the only state that undermines local authority in more areas than Wisconsin.

As a comparison, 21 states preempt local authority in two or fewer areas.

States’ rights and individual liberty are clearly not real Republican principles. Rather, they’re fig leaves, attempting to hide the imposition of their religious views and their lust for one-party rule. So when you hear that a Republican law is going to protect your state’s rights or your individual liberty, be afraid — be very afraid.


Walker signs bill banning bans on plastic bags

“Paper or plastic?” isn’t going away anytime soon in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation March 30 protecting plastic bags from community bans. AB 730 prohibits local governments from regulating the commercial use of plastic bags or other “auxiliary containers” such a cups, bottles or other packaging.

The measure also prohibits local governments from enacting measures that attach a fee or surcharge on plastic bags.

There are no communities in Wisconsin with such bans; Eau Claire in 2013 considered a measure intended to reduce the use of plastic bags.

However, more than 100 communities in other states have enacted restrictions on single-use plastic bags, considered a major source of global pollution. In 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to adopt a ban.

Additionally, Hawaii adopted statewide restrictions in 2012 and California lawmakers passed restrictions in 2014, which are on hold pending the outcome of a ballot initiative in November.

The goal with the restrictions is to decrease trash and litter, as well as reduce the use of the natural resources required to manufacture the bags, which generally are made from fossil fuels.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year and bags used for an average of 12 minutes before they get discarded.

About 2.2 billion pounds of fossil fuel and 3.9 billion gallons of fresh water are needed to produce the 100 billion plastic bags annually used in the United States, according to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a group based in New York that’s been a leader on the ecology side of the issue. The manufacturing process creates about a billion pounds of solid waste each year and produces 2.7 million tons of CO2.

At Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group that conducts regular cleanups of waterways, activists emphasize that the bags and other petroleum-based plastics never really break down — thus, about every square mile of ocean is polluted with about 46,000 pieces plastic.

The plastic pollution contributes to flooding and threatens wildlife, as animals ingest or become entangled in the materials.

Despite the environmental concerns with plastic bags, protecting their use and challenging bans is big business.

A force behind the “preemption” bills such as the one signed by Walker is the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, the national organization of legislators and businesses that promotes corporate interests and conservative policies.

Also, an offshoot of ALEC, the American City County Exchange, adopted a resolution encouraging local elected officials to not regulate single-use containers and packaging, “such as reusable bags, disposable bags, boxes, cups, and bottles that are made of cloth, paper, plastic, extruded polystyrene, or similar materials.”

ALEC’s campaign against plastic bag bans is backed by plastic manufacturers and a trade group, the National Federation of Independent Business, which has had funding from the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

Florida banned plastic bag bans in 2008. Missouri and Arizona passed bag bans last year, but Arizona’s legislation faces a legal challenge.

In Wisconsin, these entities lobbied for the ban on bans: Alliance of Wisconsin Retailers, American Chemistry Council, American Progressive Bag Alliance, Koch Companies Public Sector, Kwik Trip, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Midwest Food Processors Association, Wisconsin Beverage Association, National Federation of Independent Business, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Wisconsin Grocers Association , Wisconsin Independent Businesses Inc., Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Paper Council, Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Associates and Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

These groups that opposed the legislation: Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Dane County Cities and Villages Association, Clean Wisconsin, Dane County, the City of Milwaukee and the City of Madison.


Bag restrictions

More than 100 municipalities have enacted restrictions aimed at reducing or eliminating the use of single-use plastic bags. Hawaii and California have statewide restrictions, but California’s law is on hold.

Alaska: 2 municipalities

California: 88 municipalities

Colorado: 5 municipalities

Connecticut: 1 municipality

District of Columbia: 1 municipality

Hawaii: Statewide

Iowa: 1 municipality

Maine: 1 municipality

Maryland: 21 municipalities

Massachusetts: 8 municipalities

New Mexico: 1 municipality

New York: 5 municipalities

North Carolina: 9 municipalities

Oregon: 3 municipalities

Texas: 9 municipalities

Rhode Island: 1 municipality

Washington: 11 municipalities

Source: Surfrider Foundation

Did you know?

In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country to ban single-use plastic bags, which can exacerbate flooding.

Spring cleaning on the river

Milwaukee Riverkeeper is organizing clean up crews to remove litter and debris from 50 sites in the Milwaukee River basin. The annual Spring River Cleanup takes place April 23, the day after Earth Day.

Each year, thousands of volunteers remove tons of trash from the waterways in the Greater Milwaukee area. In 2015, about 3,500 volunteers hauled away 70,000 pounds of trash.

For more information or to register, go online to Milwaukee Riverkeeper at milwaukeeriverkeeper.org.

— L.N.

Local U.S. leaders planning for climate effects

When it comes to climate change, local officials have a message for Washington: Lead or get out of the way.

Local governments have long acted as first responders in emergencies and now are working to plan for rising sea levels, floods, hurricanes and other extreme events associated with climate change.

As a presidential task force prepared for its first meeting this week, local officials say they want and need federal support, but they worry that congressional gridlock and balky bureaucratic rules too often get in the way. Some say Washington needs to reconsider national policies that encourage people to build in beautiful but vulnerable areas.

“The first thing the feds should do is stop making things worse,” said Boulder, Colo., Mayor Matthew Appelbaum. Specifically, by subsidizing flood insurance in low-lying areas and paying billions to fight wildfires that destroy property near national forests, the federal government is encouraging development “in all the wrong places,” Appelbaum said at a recent forum on the impacts of climate change.

Federal assistance was crucial after a massive flood in Colorado in September destroyed nearly 2,000 homes, washed out hundreds of miles of roads and left many small mountain towns completely cut off. But even as cities and towns relied on the National Guard and other federal help in the storm’s immediate aftermath, local leaders said the disaster illustrated problems with a one-size-fits-all approach.

In Fort Collins, Colo., for instance, nearly three dozen federal agencies were involved in fixing a road destroyed by a mudslide.

“Half said, ‘No, it can’t be fixed,’ ‘’ said Fort Collins Mayor Karen Weitkunat. “The other half said ‘go ahead.’ That’s a problem that needs to be resolved.”

Weitkunat, who serves on the presidential task force, said her message to federal officials is simple: “Get out of the way and we can rebound.”

The White House says it backs a local approach to climate change. That’s a key reason President Barack Obama appointed the task force, which includes more than two dozen state, local and tribal officials who will advise the administration on how to respond to severe storms, wildfires, droughts and other events affected by climate change. All but four task force members are Democrats.

“Climate impacts are really local. They are about the place where you are, and everyone has to deal with this in a bit of a different way,” said Susan Ruffo, deputy associate director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

In states such as Florida, climate change is “about sea level rise,” Ruffo said, while in some Western states the main effects are more frequent wildfires, as well as extreme flooding or drought.

While the task force is looking at federal money spent on roads, bridges, flood control and other projects, most key decisions are local, Ruffo said, citing zoning rules and building codes that could be adapted to account for climate change.

Stephen Marks, an assistant administrator in Hoboken, New Jersey, said Superstorm Sandy showed that emergency responders need better training and equipment.

Hoboken was caught without special cars and trucks equipped for high-water during Sandy, which caused extensive flooding to businesses, residences and Hoboken’s historic rail terminal. “We lost a lot of vehicles in the storm,” Marks said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, a member of the presidential task force, said climate change demands immediate action. “We can’t wait for Congress to gets its act together,” he said. “We can’t wait and we won’t wait.”