Legislators Cutting Away at Local Control

Local governments shouldn’t be allowed to play with knives, according to a bill pending before the General Assembly. And there are several pieces of legislation declaring, to one degree or another, that the federal government shouldn’t be trusted to handle guns.
Such measures, it seems, are part of a growing trend in Legislatorland to assert state supremacy. Dangerous devices may be cutting-edge issues in this regard, but it gets into some duller things as well. They might be more significant.
Now, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, has a point in his “knife rights” bill. If a national retailer is afraid to mail a blade longer than 4 inches into Tennessee, fearing criminal prosecution under state law, that law probably does need to be carved into better shape.
And if we allow citizens to possess rifles, shotguns and pistols, well, it doesn’t take piercing intellect to reason that legalizing ownership of a “switchblade” is not really slashing public safety concerns. Bell’s bill slices “4-inch blade” and “switchblade” provisions from current state law.
It also cuts local governments’ ability to enact ordinances that conflict with state knife laws. Bell says that if you leave Knoxville with a knife having a 4-inch blade in the car and drive to Clarksville, that’s fine, legally speaking, until you reach your destination, whereupon you are in violation of a local ordinance banning blades longer than 3 inches.

In short, the knife bill may need some honing — is a sword covered, as seems likely, or not? — but overall it is a stab at protecting an individual against unreasonable governmental prosecution or harassment for buying or possessing something that, in itself, is not hurting anyone.
The bills aimed at federal gun laws — and there are many — appear to have the same motive. The fear seems to be that an overbearing, out-of-touch federal government wants to take away individual rights and, therefore, the supreme state Legislature needs to step in and protect citizens against this unwarranted intrusion through nullification or declarations that state or local governments shall not participate in enforcement of such laws.
The theme is protecting citizens against government intrusion.
In contrast, there’s another genre of legislation that seeks to intrude upon protection of individual citizens. These are the state supremacy bills that declare local governments, elected by citizens, cannot go beyond legislator decisions.
At the vanguard of such bills was a measure already part of state law, enacted a couple of years ago, declaring that no local government can require a business, as part of a contract with the local government, to refrain from discriminating against people because of sexual orientation. Nashville had done that and the Legislature overrode its decision, insisting that discriminating businesses should also be able to take taxpayer money just like those that don’t discriminate.
Pending legislation says local governments, when deciding how to spend their money collected from local taxpayers, cannot insist that the contracting businesses pay more than minimum wage, cannot require they grant family leave to workers, cannot require insurance benefits, cannot have any control over “wage theft” — which means businesses promising employees something, then not delivering.
And there’s the law requiring a photo ID for voting. City and county government IDs are not valid. State-issued IDs are. Memphis issued a library card with the goal of helping individuals who don’t have a driver’s license exercise their right to vote. A bill moving through this year makes sure that won’t happen — despite a temporary state Supreme Court order that says the library cards are valid, basically adopting the view that a city government is part of state government.
Such measures insist on uniformity in assuring that individuals do not get any rights from government beyond what is deemed appropriate by the supreme state through its legislators. Yes, it might be stupid for local elected officials to set contract terms on wages paid and such, but, if they decide otherwise, it would be a democratic decision with the good intention of helping individual citizens, wouldn’t it?
Maybe so, but under prevailing legislative wisdom it is not to be permitted. Legislators are sharp, you see; local officials dull.

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