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What is Preemption? And Why is it Bad?

Some of the best efforts to make communities healthier begin locally. So, what happens when state laws pass that take away the ability of community members, city councils, school districts, and counties to pass policies at the local level? It makes our community work to help prevent heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes far more difficult.

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In recent years, we are seeing more preemption proposals aiming to throttle local control. Some states, like Arizona, have recently passed laws that stop, limit, or discourage local communities from enacting commonsense policy solutions that help create positive changes for communities that are proven to help kids grow up at a healthy weight and prevent disease. And now, it’s happening in Oregon.

A recent ballot initiative, Initiative Petition (IP) 37, does just that. If passed, it would severely affect the health of our communities by removing local ability to make decisions on proven food and nutrition policies that will impact the fate and future of their own communities.

Preemption is not a new issue for the public health community. Once cities began successfully passing tobacco control measures, such as smoke-free workplaces, there was an intensive push around the country to establish preemption statutes and set weak smoke-free air laws at the state level, prohibiting municipalities from protecting workers, most often those working in restaurants and bars. It wasn’t until 2009 that public health advocates were able to overcome this preemption, finally creating a comprehensive clean indoor air act.

Preemption puts current and future public health at risk by putting a ceiling on the health protection local and state governments can set.  Future scientific findings may reveal the need for stronger protections. Ceiling preemption puts an unnecessary roadblock up against policies that protect our communities’ health and safety.

What kinds of changes are states and municipalities making? They’re funding nutrition education for kids and families using revenue from local taxes on sugar-loaded drinks to pay for it. Communities are expanding options for healthy drinks in kids’ meals in restaurants. Local elected officials are putting policies in place to make sure that kids in childcare settings are getting the healthy options they deserve to get a strong start to life.

If we don’t take a stand, preemption will become the law of the land. We must demand that local efforts remain protected. Our local communities deserve the chance to help parents give their kids a healthy future.

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