Power of Home Rule units

By Ryan Whitehouse

In Illinois, county and municipal governments can shape their powers under two forms of governing authority — Dillon’s Rule and Home Rule.

Units of local government can have extreme authority when tackling issues within their jurisdiction. Whether it is zoning or taxing power, these units of local government are in control, as long as express authority is provided by state law. This limitation is structured under a provision of the law known as Dillon’s Rule.

Under Dillon’s Rule, local units are a creation of the state and therefore cannot do anything unless expressly authorized by the state.

Along with the growth of our state, and our municipalities and counties maturing in population and authority, came an interest, by these units of government, to exercise their own power and perform functions that pertain to their governmental affairs without express permission from the state.

So, under the 1970 Constitution, the theory of Home Rule authority was adopted. Home Rule grants broad power from the state, giving select counties and municipalities the authority to deal with local matters without need for special legislation. However, local actions/ ordinances may not conflict with state law. If authorization is vague, the benefit of doubt goes to the local unit, unless that power is expressly denied by state law.

Home Rule was enacted to allow for local action on local issues. However, Home Rule status was not granted to every community.

The Illinois Constitution set forth guidelines for establishing Home Rule units that include: A county must have an elected chief executive officer; units of local governments with a population of more than 25,000 are automatically Home Rule; smaller municipalities can ask their voters to support a referendum to become Home Rule.

Currently, there are 217 Home Rule municipalities, and only one county, Cook. Other counties have tried to pass Home Rule referenda but failed voter support.

Dillon’s Rule of government authority exist today. Our Illinois Farm Bureau policy does not take a position on either Dillon’s Rule or Home Rule. However, local government is important to our organization. Policy 110 - Local Government, states in point: “We support the principle of strong local government.”

Our state policy is purposefully silent on this issue, encouraging county Farm Bureaus to engage with their units of government and membership if this question of local control is proposed at either the county or municipal level.

This article appeared in the latest edition of LINK, Local Information, News & Know-How.