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Newport News Now

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Newport News Now is a daily e-newsletter that launched in March 2016. Articles that ran in our newsletter between March 2016 and March 2018 are available on these pages. Newsletters produced beginning in April 2018 can be viewed on our new daily newsletter page.

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Apr 10

How the Dillon Rule Affects Local Government

Posted on April 10, 2017 at 10:45 AM by Communications Department

The limiting of local government authority

What do penalties for maliciously activating a building fire alarm, lifetime dog and cat licenses, and running bamboo have in common? Well, all three are the subject of a bill signed by the Governor that gives cities authority to address these issues.
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 As a Dillon Rule state, Virginia abides by a legislative structure that limits local government authority to (1) things specifically designated by the Virginia General Assembly, (2) things that are necessarily implied by a specific grant of authority, and (3) things essential to the purpose of government. This philosophy of limited authority for local government also carries with it a “when in doubt, don’t” clause. If there is a reasonable doubt as to whether or not a local government has been given the authority to act, then it has not.

Because of the Dillon Rule where doctrine of limited authority for local governments is in effect, every year the General Assembly reviews dozens of bills to grant cities the authority to do things such as cut grass and weeds, change the date of a governing board meeting, or apply civil penalties for violations of local ordinances.

Following are some of the new authorities being granted to cities from the 2017 session.
 • Localities may provide by ordinance that a person convicted of maliciously activating a fire alarm shall be liable for the reasonable expense in responding to such a fire alarm.
• The governing body of a county or city to provide for a lifetime dog or cat license.
• Arts and cultural districts may be created jointly by two or more localities.
• Local governments can create green development zones that provide certain tax incentives and regulatory flexibility for up to 10 years to a business operating in an energy-efficient building or to a business that produces products used to reduce negative impact on the environment.
• Municipalities may adopt an ordinance requiring proper upkeep of running bamboo and prohibiting the spread of running bamboo from a landowner's property.

 An in-depth description of all bills considered in the 2017 General Assembly session is available at