2024 Legislative Session Dates
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MultiState's Local Policy Digest explores the top legislative developments from municipalities across the U.S.

The battle over local “right-to-work” legislation spreads to Delaware.

At this week’s meeting of the Sussex County Council, Councilman Rob Arlett introduced a controversial “right-to-work” ordinance, placing the county in the midst of a national debate over Americans’ relationship with unions. The ordinance (page 80) Arlett is proposing would prohibit private-sector employers from entering into agreements that make union dues a condition of employment.

Arlett argues that the lack of a local right-to-work law hinders the county's economic potential and enacting one would make the county a more competitive location for new businesses. “Many companies won’t even look at a state or a municipality if they’re not right-to-work automatically. So, to me, if we can add new options and explore new avenues that this county has never done before, that’s important,” Arlett says.

Ordinance opponents argue that unions help employees at the negotiating table and enacting a right-to-work ordinance would put them at a disadvantage. “The protection of women and minorities in the workplace and equal pay have all come from the unions. They haven’t come from management. . . . The right to unionize is a human rights issue,” says Bette McGrath, a Sussex County resident.

Public hearings and discussion are expected to continue, but the council hopes to vote on the ordinance by the end of the year. If passed, the legislation would almost certainly attract an immediate legal challenge from local unions.

Belmont, California, wants to raise its minimum wage faster than the state.

Last week, the Belmont City Council introduced an ordinance aimed at raising the minimum wage ahead of last year's state law, which set the statewide minimum wage on a schedule to gradually raise the wage rate over the next several years. The ordinance aims to alleviate the strain of recent cost-of-living increases on the city's low-wage workers.

As of January 1 of this year, California state law requires that companies with more than 26 employees pay employees a minimum wage of $10.50 per hour. The law will increase the minimum wage to $11 starting in 2018 and continue raising it incrementally until it hits $15 in 2023.

The ordinance (page 290) contained three proposals from city council members and the city manager. Two of the proposals outlined schedules that set a $15 minimum wage for 2021, while one set it for 2020. Despite the ordinance's intention, the city council remains split on the issue, with some in favor because it could help the city's working poor and others harboring concerns about its potential effect on local businesses.

Councilwoman Davina Hurt believes the city has a duty to act on this issue at this critical point. “The market’s motivations are not always on par with humanistic needs,” she says. “This is where government is helpful, this is where government can stay strong and hold a baseline.” In contrast, Councilman Warren Lieberman says the council needs to carefully examine the higher minimum wage's effects on small business owners and residents before passing the ordinance.

The ordinance is set to be discussed during a public hearing at the November 14 city council meeting.

Holyoke, Massachusetts, drone ordinance under scrutiny in wake of landmark court case.

In September, a Massachusetts federal district court struck down a Newton drone regulation that it ruled was preempted by federal law. Drone rights activists hailed the ruling as a major victory because it confirmed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) exclusive jurisdiction, which lays out the terms by which state and local governments can restrict drone usage.

Following the landmark decision, the town of Holyoke, Massachusetts, felt compelled to review its own drone regulations, passed last September, to ensure they comply with federal law. While the review is still underway, Council President Kevin A. Jourdain says the Newton ruling "does not have precedent or binding authority on the city of Holyoke." Jourdain explained that the Holyoke ordinance differed in two critical ways from the preempted Newton ordinance. First, Holyoke's ordinance did not require local drone owners to register their drones with the city. Second, Holyoke's ordinance does not seek to regulate commercial drones — its jurisdiction only applies to hobbyists' drones.

Jourdain says that although he supported the Newton case decision, he would like to see the state's congressional representatives work to produce further clarification on the issue of local drone regulations. He says that would “allow people to enjoy this new technology while at the same time protecting public safety over local public events and people's right to privacy in and around their homes."

Since the Newton case decision was announced on September 26, MultiState has identified eight new drone ordinances across the country.

Looking ahead to November 7: Mayoral elections.

Next Tuesday, 36 of the top 100 most populous U.S. cities will hold mayoral elections. We will be tracking the election outcomes and updating the results in real-time via our Twitter and Facebook profiles.

With the executive office of cities like Seattle, Detroit, and Minneapolis in contention, these elections could significantly affect the direction of future policy proposals at the local level. This year has seen issues like state preemption and sanctuary cities brought to the forefront of local policy discussions. Decisions relating to these issues can have major consequences that can resonate up the political chain.

While most large cities prefer to run nonpartisan elections, policy decisions are often made along party lines. Consequently, an affiliation change at the highest level of local government could have dramatic consequences for a city's political direction.

MultiState will be paying close attention to the mayoral races in Atlanta and Charlotte, where a party change is most likely to happen. Be sure to tune in the evening of November 7.

MultiState currently tracks more than 3,700 cities, towns, and counties. Additional information about our Local Tracking Service is available here.