HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Preemption, Public Health, and Equity in the Time of COVID-19

Kim Haddow, Derek Carr, Derek Carr, Sabrina Adler, Preemption, Public Health, and Equity in the Time of COVID-19, Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19. Boston: Public Health Law Watch (2020)

Preemption is a legal doctrine that allows a higher level of government to limit or eliminate the power of a lower level of government to regulate a specific issue. As governments seek to address the myriad health, social, and economic consequences of COVID-19, an effective response requires coordination between state and local governments. Unfortunately, for many localities, the misuse of state preemption over the last decade has increased state and local government friction and weakened or abolished local governments’ ability to adopt the health- and equity-promoting policies necessary to respond to and recover from this crisis. The broad misuse of preemption has left localities without the legal authority and policy tools needed to respond to the pandemic. Existing state preemption of paid sick leave, municipal broadband, and equitable housing policies, for example, forced local governments to start from behind. Moreover, many state executive orders issued in response to COVID-19 outlawed local efforts to enact stronger policies to protect the health and wellbeing of communities. And, preemption in the time of COVID-19 has exacerbated the health and economic inequities affecting people of color, low-wage workers, and women. Conflict between state and local governments has cost lives, delayed effective responses, and created confusion that continues to undermine public health efforts. The new coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that the overwhelming majority of state preemption occurring today harms public health efforts and worsens health inequities. The crisis also has underscored the need to reform and rebalance the relationship between states and local governments.

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