Cities can and must lead progressive policy

Posted on November 6, 2018

This is written from the National League of Cities annual Summit, this year at the Los Angeles Convention Center. If you’re in L.A., please come visit us in the Exhibition Hall, booth number 530.

Today, 62 percent of Americans live in cities and towns, although they govern only 3.5 percent of our nation’s land area. There’s even greater density in municipalities west of the Mississippi River where about 75 percent of residents live in cities and towns.

America’s economic power is concentrated in our cities and their metro areas. The top 100 metropolitan regions alone account for at least three-fourths of the U.S. gross domestic product, and the top twenty metros account for more than half. The New York metro area alone has a greater GDP than all of Canada; the Los Angeles area has a bigger economy than Turkey; the Chicago area is economically stronger than Argentina.

That’s a lot of power. What to do with it? Here are ten proactive progressive measures (linked to model legislation) that could be enacted in cities and many towns:

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.