American cities and localities have historically been places of innovation and incubation when it comes to advancing equity and inclusion. Now, local governments in many states are leading the fight for stronger public health protections against COVID-19-through mask mandates, stay-at-home orders, and paid leave provisions, among other actions. However, state lawmakers have long used preemption-state laws that block, override, or limit local ordinances-to stifle local government action, often under pressure from corporate interests and political ideology. Through preemption, state lawmakers have obstructed local communities-often majority-minority communities-from responding to the expressed needs and values of their residents through policies. In this article, we first look at the context behind preemption and its disparate effects. After establishing a conceptual framework for measuring disparities, we discuss how the current COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately harming the same communities that have been preempted from taking local action, limiting their ability to effectively combat the public health crisis. We argue that all stakeholders interested in health equity have a role to play in addressing the misuse of state preemption.
Keywords: covid-19; health disparities; law; policy; preemption; social determinants.