In the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in “preemption” laws, whereby conservative states try to clip the wings of their liberal cities. Examples in the Trump era include banning cities from increasing their minimum wage or acting as immigrant “sanctuary cities.” Of the national preemption laws tracked by the progressive Partnership for Working Families, Washington State only bans rent control (and even that one is up for debate right now).
Preemption is not inherently bad — federal preemption is an important part of the constitution! — but many of these bills simply seek to impose Republican cultural norms on Democratic cities, like removing voting rights or preventing firearm bans. While Washington does relatively little of this kind of preemption, the fight over HB1793 – automatic bus lane enforcement – shows that the desire to impose cultural norms is alive and well.
Last year, HB 1793 passed the state House, after much gnashing of teeth, and ran out of time in the Senate. A slimmed-down version of the automatic bus lane enforcement bill has been re-introduced this session and passed the house Thursday. In response to last year’s defeat, the fines have been lowered and the state is insisting on getting a taste of the funds.
Unlike new taxing authority or other issues that might reasonably necessitate state control, there’s little risk to Olympia in permitting enforcement cameras: if the voters of Seattle really don’t like it, they can seek remedy from the city council.
This is a short legislative session, so the Senate may choose to punt on the bill again. That would be unfortunate. The city has put together a remarkably broad coalition: city council, the mayor, the police and fire departments, transit advocates, disability rights groups, the ACLU, and even the Seattle Times Editorial Board. Not even the Seahawks bring this many people together.
So if it’s not about logic, or popularity, or anti-democratic harm, what’s it about? As skeptical legislators start to voice increasingly baroque objections, they sound more like the Florida legislature banning cities from regulating firearms or Indiana banning higher minimum wages: a way to force rural values (in our case, the primacy of the private auto) on an engaged urban population.
Contact your State Senator today. Let’s pass this thing already.