It’s impossible to spend any time at the state legislature this year without hearing phrases like “local control” and “home rule” discussed in concert with any number of progressive questions. At yesterday’s public hearing on a statewide preemption bill, many people based their opposition on these same ideas, specifically, that a local government “knows best for its residents,” and that city councils are where big decisions should be made.
The Iowa Constitution, and state law, both support this idea – within some clearly defined boundaries. Home rule is simple; it generally means local governments are in charge when there’s no contrasting state law, or when they are acting to execute an identified city power.
These rights exist for a reason; there are more than 900 cities in Iowa, each with their own local issues. The boundaries exist for that same reason, but on the other side of the ledger – a person’s rights can never be diminished because of a local decision. Home rule and local control work when both of those parts are understood.
An example of local control and home rule falling apart came to my attention in 2014, when activists began a multi-year response to abusive local ordinances in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines which hurt survivors of domestic violence, and set them up for eviction upon calling the police when they needed to. It was a full-blown battle. Those cities spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to defend their corrupt ordinances, all in the name of “home rule” and local control. They nearly won.