As Iowa celebrates the half-century milestone of cities being granted the right to self-govern, a recent onslaught of legislation threatens local control provisions. State regulations have superseded city rules for 50 years and county rules for 40, but as a Home Rule state, Iowa’s Constitution provides those local entities a level of authority over matters specific to their own communities.
The 2017 legislative session saw Iowa lawmakers pass rules amending, limiting or banning local control on such issues as minimum wage increases, fireworks sales ordinances, project labor agreements for public construction projects, plastic grocery bags restrictions and certain firearms rules. However, lawmakers also passed three bills that expanded the powers of local school boards, including providing more flexibility with the use of some funds.
Already this session, bills have been proposed to enact statewide rules for traffic cameras and lease-purchase agreements for public projects. Proponents of such bills say statewide regulations are necessary to prevent a confusing patchwork of rules throughout Iowa or to stifle dangerous precedents created by a few rogue counties. Bill Peterson, executive director of the Iowa State Association of Counties, said interest groups or multistate organizations often lobby for statewide rules to make doing business easier. “If they were to try to individually do that in 99 counties or 940-some municipalities, that’s a lot of heavy lifting to get what you want accomplished,” he said. “The concern of our members is it really does undercut the ability of citizens within a community to make different decisions that are positive for their community. ... We over-escalate the need for state and federal action on issues where it would be perfectly fine if people could make those decisions.”
In Pennsylvania, an Amish family is being forced to adopt the use of electricity after the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that the Yoder family had to complete a mandatory connection between their outhouse and a municipal sewer “without further delay.” The court felt it was in their place to tell the Yoder family not only that they absolutely had to connect their residence to the government’s sewer system, they also had to decide for the family whether they should or should not use electricity. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized Pennsylvania judges for claiming that the only way they could get this done was to use electricity.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) now has access to a national database of license plates, allowing it to track millions of cars on a daily basis regardless of the owners' immigration status. Automated license plate readers have been a point of concern for the ACLU since 2013, when the organization released a report based on public records requests submitted to 600 police departments. The ACLU said the scanners were "becoming a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance" and claims that “legitimate law enforcement functions” account for "a tiny fraction" of the millions of license plate records tracking drivers, most of whom have no idea that they're in the database.
Did you know that education receives over half of all state tax dollars in Iowa? The new legislature is in session…let them know what is important to you!
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