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Sunday, January 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Idaho lawmakers trample local control

A year ago today, we posed this question in an editorial:

“When did local control cease to be a conservative principle? We ask because Idaho legislators keep big-footing issues that school districts, colleges and city and county governments are capable of handling.”

Well, they’re at it again.

Idaho legislators passed two bills that pre-empt local government power. One forbids local governments or voters from attempting any change to the state’s minimum wage. The other blocks any attempt by local governments to tax or regulate plastic grocery bags or other “auxiliary containers.”

So “one size fits all” isn’t always a conservative complaint. Sometimes it’s the ideal, especially in a state with one-party rule.

Lawmakers justified the changes by calling them good for business. But they’re supposed to govern for all the people, not block their ability to make changes in their own communities. The cities of Boise and Coeur d’Alene are far different from small towns, and they should be able to govern in a way that reflects community values.

The plastic-bag issue commonly surfaces in local communities, where citizens decide that the environmental damage wrought isn’t worth the convenience. But rather than fight the issue community by community, business interests gained the ear of legislators, where they only have to wage one battle.

If they win, it’s one size fits all, whether that’s appropriate or not.

The minimum wage, which is $7.25 in Idaho, might not be the best for Boise, but that’s where it will remain until the Legislature changes it. There is no single figure that’s right for small towns and big cities. States have variable minimum wage laws. There’s no reason they can’t be different community by community, as long as it’s determined by a democratic process.

Oregon passed a regional minimum wage law that varies based on local economic data. That makes sense.

Terreton, Idaho, took up the issue of plastic grocery bags after schoolchildren petitioned for a ban. The city council put the issue on its agenda and had a debate. The proposed prohibition was defeated.

That’s how democracy is supposed to work, if it can be trusted.

Last year, legislators demonstrated a lot of distrust and condescension. They barred local governments from imposing knife-control restrictions (yes, knives, not guns), and they removed from colleges the authority to regulate who can carry a gun on campus. They pondered, but ultimately shelved, bills that would expunge local anti-discrimination ordinances and establish architectural design standards for all cities.

Last year, when the Boise City Council began exploring regulations for the ride-booking companies Uber and Lyft, the Legislature swooped in with a law saying only the state could regulate such businesses.

The editorial board is generally pro-business, but pre-empting democratic processes because there is lopsided power is unsettling.

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