History of Illinois Home Rule
In 1970, the 4th version of the Illinois Constitution was adopted. It included language that altered the relationship between the state and local government entities. This change was defined in Article VII, Section 6 and entitled Local Government. (https://www.ilga.gov/commission/lrb/conmain.htm)
The intent of this alteration to the Illinois Constitution was to negate “Dillon’s Rule”. Dillon’s Rule was named after Justice John F. Dillon, an Iowa Supreme Court Justice who made a ruling in an1868 court case. In his ruling, Justice Dillon articulated a philosophy about limited local governmental authority. HIs ruling stated that since municipalities and other units of local government are “creatures” of the state, they have no powers except those given by state law. This rule was followed for many years by courts in Illinois and many other states. Thus, prior to 1970, local municipalities in Illinois that wanted to develop local ordinances had to abide by state legislation in all matters.
On July 1, 1971, all municipalities in Illinois with populations greater than 25,000 were automatically considered to be “home rule” municipalities. As a result, Freeport became and has been a home rule municipality since1971.
Why the Constitutional change in 1970?
Prior to July, 1971, because of adherence to Dillon’s Rule, municipalities had limited authority to create ordinances. They had only the authority expressly granted to them by the Illinois legislature. Many communities found this to be an inefficient and laborious process that impeded their ability to govern in the best interest of their constituents.
What does home rule mean?
Home rule is a delegation of power from the state to its municipalities (counties, municipalities, towns, townships or villages). Home rule expanded communities’ powers to enact ordinances for the efficient operation of their communities. The Illinois Constitution allows any home rule community to:
“exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt.”
Home rule allows local control authorizing elected leaders to exercise control over the day-to-day operations of their communities.
Once a unit of local government gains home rule status, it is in many ways autonomous from state government. According to the Illinois Constitution, “powers and functions of home rule units shall be construed liberally.” However, home rule units are nonetheless subject to limitations found in both the Illinois Constitution and statutes passed by the General Assembly that specifically indicate they apply to home rule units. In summary, non-home rule units may only take actions specifically granted by the Illinois Constitution or the General Assembly. Home rule units may take any action pertaining to their local government and affairs unless such action is specifically limited by the Illinois Constitution or the General Assembly.
NOTE: This article offers a brief layman’s summary of the history of home rule in Illinois. There is much more legal detail contained in Article VII Section 6 of the Constitution.
Why is Freeport home rule of interest now?
The City of Freeport had a population of 24,238 as of July 1, 2021. For that reason, it is no longer automatically considered to be a home rule municipality. As a result, the city will have a referendum on the ballot on November 8. The decision to maintain or do away with home rule will be up the voters. It is a significant decision for the community. Please take time to learn about the pros and cons of home rule as you consider your decision.