Introduction for EducatorsTable of ContentsUpdates & Latest AdditionsLearning Pathway: Black Lives MatterLearning Pathway: Influential WomenLearning Pathway: Student RightsLearning Pathway: Election 2020Learning Pathway: Current Events Learning Pathway: Media Literacy Teacher-Designed Learning PlansTopic 1. The Philosophical Foundations of the United States Political System1.1. The Government of Ancient Athens1.2. The Government of the Roman Republic1.3. Enlightenment Thinkers and Democratic Government1.4. British Influences on American Government1.5. Native American Influences on American GovernmentTopic 2. The Development of the United States Government2.1. The Revolutionary Era and the Declaration of Independence2.2. The Articles of Confederation2.3. The Constitutional Convention2.4. Debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists2.5. Articles of the Constitution and the Bill of RightsTopic 3. Institutions of United States Government3.1. Branches of the Government and the Separation of Powers3.2. Examine the Relationship of the Three Branches3.3. The Roles of the Congress, the President, and the Courts3.4. Elections and Nominations3.5. The Role of Political PartiesTopic 4. The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens4.1. Becoming a Citizen4.2. Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens and Non-Citizens4.3. Civic, Political, and Private Life4.4. Fundamental Principles and Values of American Political and Civic Life4.5. Voting and Citizen Participation in the Political Process4.6. Election Information4.7. Leadership and the Qualities of Political Leaders4.8. Cooperation Between Individuals and Elected Leaders4.9. Public Service as a Career4.10. Liberty in Conflict with Equality or Authority4.11. Political Courage and Those Who Affirmed or Denied Democratic Ideals4.12. The Role of Political Protest4.13. Public and Private Interest Groups, PACs, and Labor UnionsTopic 5. The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court Decisions5.1. The Necessary and Proper Clause5.2. Amendments to the Constitution5.3. Constitutional Issues Related to the Civil War, Federal Power, and Individual Civil Rights5.4. Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Race, Gender, and Disability5.5. Marbury v. Madison and the Principle of Judicial Review5.6. Significant Supreme Court DecisionsTopic 6. The Structure of Massachusetts State and Local Government6.1. Functions of State and National Government6.2. United States and Massachusetts Constitutions6.3. Enumerated and Implied Powers6.4. Core Documents: The Protection of Individual Rights6.5. 10th Amendment to the Constitution6.6. Additional Provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution6.7. Responsibilities of Federal, State and Local Government6.8. Leadership Structure of the Massachusetts Government6.9. Tax-Supported Facilities and Services6.10. Components of Local GovernmentTopic 7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy7.1. Freedom of the Press7.2. Competing Information in a Free Press7.3. Writing the News: Different Formats and Their Functions7.4. Digital News and Social Media7.5. Evaluating Print and Online Media7.6. Analyzing Editorials, Editorial Cartoons, or Op-Ed Commentaries

Responsibilities of Federal, State and Local Government

Standard 6.7: Responsibilities of Federal, State and Local Government

Contrast the responsibilities of government at the federal, state and local levels. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T6.7]

In the United States, there is one federal government, 50 state governments, 89,004 local governments, 573 American Indian tribal governments, and 5 territorial governments. These different governments directly affect the lives of people who live in the areas governed by the laws passed and the actions taken.

    1. INVESTIGATE: The Functions of State and Local Government

    Local, tribal, and territorial governments in the United States plan and pay for most roads, run public schools, provide water, organize police and fire services, establish zoning regulations, license professions, and arrange elections for their citizens.  

    Local governments work in connection with their state government, and sometimes those governments do not agree. Sanctuary city declarations, all gender restrooms, minimum wage laws, fracking policies, ride-hailing company regulations, and red light cameras at traffic lights are a few examples where local and state governments may disagree. Disagreements are furthered by the fact that most states are controlled by Republicans while most cities (where two-thirds of all Americans live) are controlled by Democrats. Nevertheless, legally and constitutionally, state governments have power over local governments.

    The COVID pandemic accentuated disagreements between state and local governments. Throughout 2020 and 2021, local officials have both defied emergency health restrictions set by states and implemented local health policies in defiance of state orders not to do so. At the end of 2020, in the state with the lowest coranavirus numbers in the country, the Stamford Vermont town selectboard voted to "terminate" the state governor's face-mask requirements, quarantine rules, and family and public gathering restrictions. The 3 to 2 majority claimed the governor's orders violated the town's constitutional right to opt-out of emergency declarations.

    Broadly speaking, however, communities do not have the right to defy a state order, as established by the 1905 Jacobson v. Massachusetts Supreme Court decision discussed in the next section. However, as the American Bar Association points out, "In judging a governor’s or local official’s authority to exercise such powers under the 10th Amendment, Supreme Court decisions require a “compelling governmental interest” be shown and evidence that the action has been narrowly tailored to achieve that interest."

    Suggested Learning Activities

    • Explore Preemption Conflicts
      • Review the article Preemption conflicts between state and local governments.
      • Select a topic (e.g., firearms, fracking, GMOs, labor and wages, LGBT, plastic bags, housing, soda taxes).
      • Conduct research to examine the state and local views on the topic.
      • Create a video or podcast to present your opinion about whether the state or local government should have the power to address that topic. 
    • Debate (in-person, on social media, or on Flipgrid)
      • Should States Dictate that Student Athletes Can Be Paid to Play College Sports? 
        • In 2019, the state of California passed the Fair Pay to Play Act. Scheduled to go into effect in 2023, this law allows college athletes to earn money from uses of their names, images and likenesses. As Sports Illustrated reported, “this act guarantees college athletes a right to profit from their identities” (McCann, 2019). Similar measures are being proposed in other states around the country.
        • Proponents of the Fair Pay to Play Act, including NBA stars LeBron James and Draymond Green as well as presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, believe this legislation will address gross inequities in college sports where coaches, universities, and television networks make huge amounts of money while athletes receive no compensation. 
        • Opponents including the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) contend that this law will ruin the college sports by making professionals out of amateur athletes. They also contend California schools will have an unfair advantage in recruiting the best players over schools in the states that do not allow athletes to be paid.
      • What are the arguments for and against the Fair Pay to Play Act? Would you vote to adopt or reject this law?

      2. UNCOVER: COVID-19, Vaccinations, Face Masks, and Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905)

      The COVID-19 pandemic has generated intense political debates over whether state, local, or national governments can mandate vaccinations as well as require face masks and/or social distancing as public health policies that everyone must follow.

      Vaccines are "injections" (shots), liquids, pills, or nasal sprays you take to teach the immunue system to recognize and defend against harmful germs" (U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2021).

      The federal government cannot mandate vaccinations, but state governments have the authority to do, particularly for health workers, essential employees, and public schoolchildren, because states are required to "provide for the public health, safety, and morals" (An Overview of State and Federal Authority to Impose Vaccination Requirements, Congressional Research Service, May 22, 2019).

      All states require vaccinations for for school attendance for diseases such as flu, measles, mumps, and rubella. Other vaccination policies vary from state to state; you can go here for State School and Childcare Vaccination Laws. No state as of June 2021 is requiring children to have a COVID-19 vaccine to attend school.

      Also as of April 2021, neither states nor the federal government have mandated COVID vaccinations, although some private employers have done so. Some colleges are requiring all students to be vaccinated to take on-campus courses in Fall 2021 (Key Questions about COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates, KFF, April 2021).

      The question of whether employers can require employees to be vaccinated remains unsettled an legal and public policy issue. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that employers can order employees to be vaccinated before returning to face-to-face work. Many companies have chosen to offer incentives and rewards for employees rather than threaten loss of one's job for not getting vaccinated. Incentives include free food and drinks, tickets to amusement parks, paid time off, cash rewards; Major League Baseball offered free tickets to games in June 2021.

      States have acted legislatively on both sides of the required vaccine or no required vaccine issue. Some states have chosen to offer prizes and even entry into vaccination lotteries to people who voluntarily get vaccinated; Ohio is giving 5 one million dollar prizes to people who get vaccinated. Montana, by contrast, passed a bill prohibting employers from requiring employees be vaccinated and the governor issued an executive order against the use of "vaccine passports" (NPR, May 28, 2021).

      History of Vaccinations

      Disputes over vaccinations and public health policies are not new historically.

      In 1809, the town of Milton became the first Massachusetts community to offer free smallpox vaccinations. The town of Milton’s action was followed that same year by a state law requiring smallpox vaccination, making Massachusetts the first state in the nation to promote the use of vaccination as a public health policy. Since then, advances in medical science have enabled physicians to use vaccinations to treat previously incurable diseases, including Avian Cholera (1879); Rabies (1885); Polio (1955); Measles (1963), and Mumps (1967) (Vaccine History: Developments by Year, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia).

      Nurse Immunizing Girl
      Nurse immunizing young girl in dress in the1930s, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, No Restrictions

      In a landmark case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), the Supreme Court upheld the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination laws, confirming the "state's duty to guard and protect . . . the safety and health of the people." Wrote the Court, “Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members” (quoted in Face-Covering Requirements and the Constitution, Price & Diaz, American Constitution Society, June 2, 2020).

      Today kindergarten through 12th grade students in Massachusetts are required to be immunized with DTaP/Tdap, polio, MMR, Hepatitis B, and Varicella vaccines. Religious and medical exemptions are granted to individuals and families in a small number of cases.

      Masks and Face-Coverings

      Mask-wearing is and has been a contested public policy. During the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, there were mask-wearing ordinances, particularly in states in the western part of the United States, including the cities of San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, Sacramento, Denver, Indianapolis, and Pasadena. Masks were of poor quality by today's standards; people wore gauze or other similarly light fabrics (learn more: The Flu in San Francisco from PBS American Experience).

      Georgia Tech football game 1918 during Spanish Flu
      Georgia Tech football game 1918 during Spanish Flu by Thomas Carter, public domain

      Though enforcement of mask-wearing rules was relatively lax, there were citations and fines. There was also organized resistance, including the Anti-Mask League of 1919. For more on this hidden history, explore "The Mask Slackers of 1918," The New York Times (August 3, 2020).

      In 2020, opposition to mask-wearing became a centerpiece of Donald Trump's unsuccessful campaign for a second term as President. Groups across the country opposed mask-mandates - citing disruption for businesses and violations of personal liberties. In some places, reactions were extreme - there were credible threats against the life of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer for her responses to the pandemic in that state.

      Can the President or Congress enact a nationwide mask mandate? The independent Congressional Research Service concluded Yes (August 6, 2020), each branch has authority to do so, although the political will may not be there for this to happen. At present, mask-wearing essentially depends on people's willingness to cooperate with requests to do so. As of December 2, 2020, 37 states have mandated face covering in public - meaning both public indoor and outdoor spaces.

      Left undecided is what to do with those who choose not to comply with mask mandates. There could be fines for individuals not wearing face covering or fines and suspensions for businesses that serve customers without masks. Such penalties exist already for individuals caught not wearing seat belts or not observing smoking bans or businesses who sell alcohol or cigarettes to underage buyers.

      Suggested Learning Activity

      • Evaluate and Respond
        • Evaluate the vaccine/mask-mandate stance of local and state officials as well as the administrators of the school you attend.
        • Then write a letter of PRAISE or PROTEST (or create a PSA) based on your findings.
      • Write a Public Policy Memo
        • After exploring the online resources for the history of pandemics and vaccines listed in the section below, consider the following:
          • Should a local, state, or federal government have the power to require people to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
          • Should students in schools be required to receive such a vaccine?
          • What response should schools take if students or their families refuse vaccinations?
        • Turn your public policy memo into an animated whiteboard video using the Explain Everything or ShowMe apps.

        Online Resources on the History of Pandemics and Vaccines

        3. ENGAGE: What Single-Use Plastic Items Should Local Governments Ban to Help Save the Environment?

        In the article How Plastics Contribute to Climate Change, Claire Arkin commented “Plastic pollution is not just an oceans issue. It’s a climate issue and it’s a human health issue,” (Bauman, 2019, para. 2). The creation, use, and incineration of plastics has a significant impact on the environment, including using up finite fossil fuels, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, filling up landfills, increasing the number of pollutants in the air, and harming or killing animals. 

        Experts, including the 2018 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agree that urgent governmental action—nationally, internationally, and locally—is needed to try and reverse the effects of human impact on the environment. People, as well as governments, are concerned about climate change and global warming. A 2018 study by researchers from Yale University and George Mason University found that "seven in ten Americans (73%) think global warming is happening, an increase of ten percentage points since March 2015; six in ten understand it is human-caused" (Climate Change in the American Mind, p. 3).

        In response, local and state governments across the country are adopting laws intended to help save the environment. Establishing rules and regulations about single-use plastic containers is one place to begin addressing climate change. National Geographic reports that nearly half the plastic ever made has been produced since 2000 while less than a fifth of plastic trash is recycled (Parker, 2018). Worldwide, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, 91% of which are not recycled (Nace, 2017). In the United States, one billion toothbrushes (most of which are plastic and not biodegradable) are discarded every year (Goldberg, 2018). 

        More than 300 communities in California, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa, and 55 countries have banned or charge fees for the single-use plastic bags (Funkhouser, 2019). New York State’s plastic bag ban will go into effect in March 2020.

        Oregon Plastic Bag Ordinance
        Portland, Oregon Plastic Bag Ordinance, by Tony Webster, licensed under CC BY 2.0

        Additional Government Actions to Address Climate and Environment

        State and local governments are taking multiple steps to respond to the climate and environment crisis:

        Which of these actions do you think will be most effective and why? What other actions would you propose be taken?

        Media Literacy Connections: Designing Environmental Campaigns Using Social Media

        Environmental and climate justice organizations make extensive use of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and many other social media platforms to communicate their ideas for sustainability and change to wide audiences. The Shorty Social Good Awards honor programs, projects, and initiatives that successfully "promote, protect, and preserve our environment" (para. 1). 

        Shorty Awards are given in many different categories. Past winners include Michelle Obama, Bill Nye, Lorde, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Retta.

        But, does social media change people's behaviors, attitudes, and opinions about climate and the environment? Do social media-based efforts result in tangible governmental action for change? What type of social media campaign would you design to promote meaningful change?

        Activity: Analyze an Environmental Awareness or Change Campaign on Social Media

        • Examine at least 2 entries from the "Best in Environment & Sustainability" category of the Shorty Awards. Second annual winners and finalists included National Geographic Chasing Genius; "Under the Canopy" virtual reality presentation on the Amazon rainforest; Dive Deeper 2, interactive water preservation stories; and Human/Nature, a series of human and animal research.
        • Answer the following questions:
          • What strategies and approaches did these organizations use to communicate their messages?
          • What visuals were used and why? What rhetoric was used?
          • What did you find effective in educating you and others?
          • What features did you find less effective in making a case for awareness or change?

         Activity: Design Your Own Social Media Campaign

        • Choose an environmental or climate issue that matters to you.
        • What type of social media campaign would you create to generate awareness and change at a local, state, or national government level?
        • For comparison and inspiration, review the “Save the Turtles” campaign and watch A Plastic Ocean (2016) on Netflix or The Majestic Plastic Bag (embedded below).
          • How did this movement translate to social media?
          • Has the “Save the Turtles” trend of not using plastic straws ended up creating tangible legislation?
          • How will your media change public opinions on important environment issues like plastic?

        Image preview of a YouTube video
        Watch on YouTube

        Suggested Learning Activities

        • Write a Public Policy Brief
          • Compose a public policy brief for a new environmental policy that local or state governments should enact.
            • Provide evidence of the problem, policies currently in place, alternative approaches, and your preferred recommendation for change.
          • Turn your brief into an animated whiteboard video using the Explain Everything or ShowMe apps.

        • Discuss and Debate:
          • Which of the following single-use products would you support banning or limiting in an effort to reduce plastic waste?
            • Plastic water bottles
            • Plastic packaging and containers
            • Styrofoam containers
            • Plastic utensils
            • Plastic packing straps
            • Sandwich bags
            • Plastic Wrap
            • Baby diapers

        • Research 
          • Would a fee-per-bag (paper or plastic bag) policy encourage more retail store customers to bring their own resusable bages when they shop?

        • Civic Action Project
          • Calculate the costs of eco-friendly school supplies for your classroom.
          • Write or create a video proposal to persuade your school administrators to purchase eco-friendly school supplies. Share your proposal with local government officials to persuade them to enact eco-friendly laws. 
          • Eco-Friendly is defined as “vegan, plastic-free, sustainable and/or re-usable” (Ragg-Murray, 2018).
          • Example eco-friendly school materials are:
            • Stainless Steel Boxes
            • Reusable Cardboard Shoeboxes
            • Canvas Bags
            • Lead-free biodegradable pencils
            • Solar-powered corn plastic calculator
            • Bamboo ruler
            • Paper supples made from 100% post-consumer waster paper and non-toxic soy-based inks
            • Sugarcane paper notebooks
            • Beeswax crayon sticks
            • Biodegradable pens
            • Bamboo pens
            • Natural grass pens
            • Note: Natural grass pens are made from natural meadow grass and BPA-free plastics.  BPA is the name for Bisphenol A, an industrial chemical found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins which can seep from products into food and beverages. Sugarcane paper is made from leftover sugarcane pulp.

        Online Resources for Environmental Action and Climate Justice

        Standard 6.7 Conclusion

        The nation’s federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments have overlapping and sometimes competing goals and policies. INVESTIGATE examined the responsibilities of government at the state and local levels. UNCOVER looked at the history of Massachusetts state government efforts to mandate vaccinations. ENGAGE asked students to consider the roles local governments can and should play in reducing plastic consumption, waste, and pollution.