Mayor Advances Federalism Accountability Legislation

By Antkowiak, Laura; Parnas, Susan M. | Nation's Cities Weekly, July 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

Mayor Advances Federalism Accountability Legislation


Antkowiak, Laura, Parnas, Susan M., Nation's Cities Weekly


Legislation before the Senate that would put a check on federal preemption of state and local rights and responsibilities received a boost last week when Mayor Alex G. Fekete of Pembroke Pines, Fla. testified before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. Also the Vice Chair of NLC's Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Relations (FAIR) Steering Committee, Mayor Fekete advocated for greater accountability in the federal government and a more balanced federal-state-local partnership,

In his testimony, Mayor Fekete enumerated several recent instances in which the federal government has threatened to intrude upon the traditional authority of local governments over zoning, land use, and certain fiscal matters. Examples cited by Mayor Fekete included last October's legislation, which restricts state and local governments, but not the federal government, in taxing Internet sales, and current law that bars municipalities from applying zoning, environmental, health, and safety statutes to railroads. Mayor Fekete additionally identified the proposed Religious Liberty Protection Act, which would deprive local governments of the right to uniformly apply neutral zoning, land use, and various health and safety laws to religious-based land uses.

As further evidence of the need for a strong federalism statute, Mayor Fekete cited a poll by Peter D. Hart and Robert Teeter that was recently covered in the Washington Post. The poll revealed a growing alienation of the American people from government, particularly at the federal level.

"We need to work together to change this perspective and S. 1214 is the best and most definitive way to do that," Fekete declared.

As citizens profess to feel closer to state and local governments, the bill before the Senate, The Federalism Accountability Act of 1999, would connect the federal government with the success of state and local governments. The bill would serve as the springboard to a government that is ultimately more responsive to the people because it creates a partnership between all levels of government--federal, state and local."

Mayor Fekete went on to explain the provisions in S. 1214, a bill chiefly sponsored by Senators Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and Carl, Levin (D-Mich.) and cosponsored by Senators Voinovich, Robb, Cochran, Lincoln, Enzi, Breaux, Roth, and Bayh. Strongly backed by the "Big 7" state and local government organizations, the Federalism Accountability Act proposes several checks on Congress and federal agencies which would require them to carefully consider the preemptive impact of their policies.

One provision directs Senate and House committees, including conference committees, to include a statement with each committee or conference report on a bill or joint resolution that details the preemptive impact of the legislation. The statement would list the reasons for the preemption and explain how state or local authority would be maintained following the passage of the legislation.

Another section of the bill aims to remedy federal agencies' failure under three consecutive administrations to conduct federalism assessments, despite the issuance of federalism executive orders.

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