Connecting preemption, public health & equity

Preemption — a legal doctrine in which a higher level of government may limit or even eliminate the power of a lower level of government to regulate a specific issue — can have profound significance for public health.

Preemption historically has been used as a legislative and judicial tool for resolving problems that arise when different levels of government adopt conflicting laws on the same subject. Preemption in itself is neither bad nor good; it is simply a legal concept. However, powerful interest groups have recently led numerous state-level efforts to preempt local laws aimed at improving public health and advancing health equity. These interest groups have successfully thwarted laws that threaten their profits — for example, local minimum wage laws, sugary drink taxes, and tobacco control ordinances — thus impeding communities’ ability to pursue equity- and health-promoting policies.

ChangeLab Solutions has created resources to help inform public officials and community leaders about how preemption can affect their efforts to promote health and equity. In our preemption materials, we explore questions such as

  • What do preemption considerations mean for public health policy?
  • How does preemption thwart or advance efforts to promote health equity?
  • How can policymakers and advocates determine when proposed legislation includes preemptive language? What can they do about it?

Get started with the resources we’ve highlighted below, or learn more about all of our areas of work.

Fundamentals of Preemption
Understanding Preemption
Our fact sheets explain the basic concept of preemption, different types of preemption, and preemption’s potential to benefit or harm community health and equity.
Assessing & Addressing Preemption
Addressing Preemption in a Local Policy Campaign
This toolkit helps policymakers, advocates, and other stakeholders assess the public health and equity implications of preemption and offers strategies to address threatened, proposed, or enacted preemptive laws.
Government Layers
An Equity-First Approach to Assessing Preemption
In this journal article, ChangeLab Solutions staff argue for the creation of an equity-first framework for assessing preemption.
Sugary Drink Tax Op-Ed Feature
Using Litigation to Challenge Preemption
Health advocates across the United States should consider litigation as a tool to counteract preemptive state laws that threaten health- and equity-promoting strategies in local communities.
Government buildings with a set of balancing scales
Public Health Authority
Health departments protect Americans, yet in some states, their authority is being stripped away. Our resources can help public health advocates stop this erosion.

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