New Principles of Home Rule

March 3, 2020

National League of Cities

Cities, counties, and towns are on the front lines of America’s most pressing problems. Local governments today are responsible for protecting our health and safety and are increasingly called to respond to inequality, fight climate change, manage technological evolution, and many other vital demands. Local governments have always been the place where innovative and timely policy solutions are devised – but today, so much more is being asked of them.

Home rule is a longstanding legal principle that gives us the power to decide which services we provide, the policies we implement, and the ways we solve problems locally. In 1953, the American Municipal Association (AMA) — which became the National League of Cities (NLC) in 1964 — published the last comprehensive proposed reform of home rule, sparking a wave of state constitutional change in the years that followed.

However, much has changed about the state-local relationship in the intervening six and a half decades. Four out of five Americans now call cities home, including America’s most diverse populations, but states are now systemically removing or reducing the power of local governments to act on the needs and values of their residents. Home rule is no longer up to the task of meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century.

NLC partnered with the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC) to release the first update in almost 70 years. This groundbreaking new framework lays out a vision for rebalancing state and local relations, and provides model constitutional language to encourage legal reform.

The Principles of Home Rule for the Twenty-First Century provide:
  • A history of home rule
  • The current landscape of local decision-making
  • Four principles of home rule that provide a new, affirmative vision for local governments, and
  • Model state constitutional language and legal commentary to implement these principles across the nation.
But the Principles are just the beginning of a longer-term conversation necessary to ensure Americans can fully participate in local democracy, and that cities are truly equipped to advance innovative and tailor-made solutions to local problems. NLC and LSSC also created a toolkit that includes the following documents:
  • Executive Summary: Principles of Home Rule for the 21st Century
  • Moving the Principles of Home Rule for the 21st Century into Action
  • Messaging Guide: Home Rule for the 21st Century.

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