Ten model bills for cities and counties

Posted on January 3, 2018

Most of the PLI model bills featured in the 2018 edition of the Progressive Agenda work at both the state and local levels. But there are some areas of law that are particularly suited for cities and counties to address. Council members, Commissioners and Supervisors, here are ten ideas for you:

Don’t ask immigration status

When immigrants believe that local law enforcement agents are involved in the enforcement of federal immigration law, immigrants—fearing harassment or deportation—simply decline to report crimes or suspicious activity. The result is twofold: criminals see immigrants as easy prey, and offenders who could have been caught remain on the streets, putting everyone at risk of becoming the next victim. Assigning the role of immigration law enforcer to local police both overburdens law enforcement and increases the risk of racial profiling. And local police usually lack the training needed to enforce our nation’s complex web of immigration laws. Localities should adopt policies prohibiting government inquiry into immigration status unless otherwise required by superseding law.

Protect LGBT fairness

Over one-third of lesbian and gay people have experienced workplace discrimination and about one-sixth have lost a job because of their sexual orientation. Sadly, over half of states and most localities do not ban discrimination against LGBT individuals. The LGBT Fairness Act prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodations, education, credit and housing.

Limit the expulsion of very young children

In some jurisdictions, kindergarten and even pre-K students are suspended or expelled at an alarming rate. But putting a 4 or 5-year-old child out of school is age-inappropriate and counter-productive. Localities can enact legislation to curtail this practice.

Create local climate change action plans

Climate change will eventually impact every state and locality. Coastal areas will have to deal with rising sea levels. The South and East will see more devastating hurricanes. The Midwest and West will experience more tornadoes, drought and wildfires. Farming will be affected by higher temperatures. And areas susceptible to flooding will see catastrophic floods. Some of the effects of climate change can be predicted and some of its damage can be mitigated with planning. Localities should create commissions to study the local effects of climate change and what policy changes could address them.

Offer a job piracy cease-fire

It is not unusual for states, cities or counties to use economic development subsidies to lure businesses from neighboring jurisdictions, and this can degenerate into tit-for-tat job piracy. These government-against-government disputes hurt taxpayers and are unnecessary. The state of Missouri passed a law offering to stop subsidies to Kansas businesses along the border if Kansas does the same. This is a terrific model that could be employed by any local government.

Require electronic recording of interrogations

Every year, hundreds of innocent Americans are convicted of crimes because of false confessions. Thousands more are arrested because of false confessions and later the charges are dropped. There are many reasons why innocent people “confess,” ranging from exhaustion to mental illness. Electronic recording of interrogations helps to protect the innocent and convict the guilty. Ten states and many cities and counties now require electronic recording of interrogations. In fact, then-State Senator Barack Obama sponsored the first state law requiring electronic recording of interrogations in 2003.

Prevent anti-abortion violence and harassment

Clinics that offer reproductive health are continually subjected to violence, threats of violence and harassment. There have been 37 murders or attempted murders due to anti-abortion violence over the past four decades, as well as hundreds of bombings and arson attacks. Abortion providers, clinic workers and patients are, quite reasonably, afraid for their personal safety. That’s why localities should pass laws to protect abortion clinics.

Help nonprofits interact with government

Governments now rely on nonprofit organizations to provide a great deal of social services, from food, health care and housing to criminal justice supports, consumer advocacy, and assistance in public education. State and local governments need to increase funding to nonprofits that have a record of success. But in addition to that, because charities want to focus on serving those in need rather than on paperwork, governments should create agencies or ombudsmen that focus on making nonprofits’ interactions with government easier, e.g., simpler RFPs, easier reporting, and streamlined licensing systems. They should also find other ways to assist charities, such as allowing them to use government purchasing procedures to get discounts, making empty government office space available for little or no cost, and other in-kind contributions that would only marginally burden government agencies.

Promote voter registration to new residents

Whenever people move, they should register to vote or update their preexisting voter registration. That’s why Seattle enacted a simple ordinance in 2017 that requires landlords to provide information on voter registration and a registration form to new tenants. This can and should be replicated. The Register New Residents Act goes a step further and also requires sellers to provide the same information to home buyers at settlement.

Require paid sick leave

Nearly 40 percent of private sector workers and nearly 80 percent of the lowest-income workers do not earn any paid sick time at all. When employees are compelled to come to work when sick, it’s obviously bad for employees while simultaneously a public health risk to customers. The Paid Sick Leave Act would provide that all employees accrue a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for a certain number of hours worked, with reasonable restrictions. Polls consistently demonstrate that such legislation is overwhelmingly popular across regions and parties.