Critics attack moves to expand state power at expense of local governments

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By MADDY O’CALLAGHAN
Capital News Service 

LANSING — State legislation limiting municipal powers has increasingly frustrated local government advocacy groups. 

New examples include a bill to prohibit communities from passing ordinances to ban specific breeds of dogs and the so-called Knife Rights Act, which bars local governments from passing restrictions on knives more limiting than state laws. 

Previously, the Legislature limited the powers of local government to regulate AirbnB and other short-term rental services, plastic bags and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

Rep. Jim Lower, R-Greenville, chair of the Local Government and Municipal Finance Committee, said that authority at the state level is sometimes necessary.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, I would prefer decisions to be made at the local level,” Lower said. “But that doesn’t mean the state shouldn’t step in to right a wrong when we see one.” 

Lower said the state should step in especially when local ordinances interfere with the rights of individuals in their communities.

Ann Marie Rogers of Rochester, the founder of Responsible Citizens for Public Safety, says the proposal to prevent localities from regulating dog breeds could threaten the safety of community residents. 

Her group opposes the proposal, which passed the House Local Government and Municipal Finance Committee and is awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee. Sponsors include Reps. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, and Julie Brixie, D-Meridian Township.

“In this case, these ordinances were put in place for a reason,” Rogers said of local laws that restrict dangerous breeds, such as pit bulls. 

“All politics are local. Local governments are closest to their residents and they have a better understanding of what is happening in their communities as opposed to a one-size-fits-all bill,” she said.

Jennifer Rigterink, the legislative associate at the Michigan Municipal League, said only 30 communities have passed breed-specific legislation. They include Bessemer Township, Carson City, Claybanks Township, Kingsford and Morenci, according to BSLCensus.com 

“In total, we’re talking about a very small issue here, not something that is happening across the state with banning dogs,” Rigterink said. “The ones who are doing it are doing it because of unfortunate incidents. There’s a reason for it.”

“The cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work,” she said of the legislative proposal.

Dale Thomson, the chair of the Department of Social Sciences at University of Michigan- Dearborn, said, historically, policy decisions are best made on the local level. 

“Local governments are creatures of the state,” Thomson said. “We need to allow democracy to thrive where it is best, which is locally.”

Thomson said local officials get frustrated with state efforts to limit their powers. 

“It can most definitely create a psychological effect,” Thomson said. “It feels like there is a lack of trust and an infringement on their obligations and duties. They’re trying desperately to operate within constraints imposed on them. 

“It’s a disenfranchisement of local officials, certainly in some areas,” he said. 

Thomson said the issue has become increasingly prominent with a Republican-held House and Senate, that, he says, make state rights the priority.