Progressive cities may dream of implementing city programs that improve education and healthcare, limit pollution and expand renewable energy, but will hit roadblocks if they live in what's known as a Dillon's Rule state.
First, let's back it up.
The U.S. Constitution says that the state governments must decide how much power cities and counties have, even if those cities and counties don’t like it. States are often broken down as being Home Rule states, Dillon’s Rule states, or some combination of the two. It’s important to understand, though, that Home Rule is something that the state government does, and Dillon’s rule is how the courts interpret legal cases. They are kind of like apples and oranges.What do state governments say to cities in Home Rule states? You can dance if you want to. In Home Rule states, the state government tell cities that, in theory, they can implement basically whatever laws they want, as long as those laws are not against the state or federal laws. S-S-S-S-A-A-A-A-F-F-F-F-E-E...
What about Dillon’s Rule states? If you’re not Home Rule, then the default is Dillon’s Rule.
Dillon’s Rule states mean that cities and counties can’t pass any laws that are not expressly given to them by the state. In fact, the state government does not have to pass anything to be considered a Dillon’s rule state by the courts. It’s the default status. For example, if a local ordinance, regulation, or fee is not directly authorized by the state legislature, then cities and counties could get sued and lose if they try to impose any of the above.
So which one are we? Kinda both, kinda neither.
The law in North Carolina is vague. It doesn’t say that North Carolina is a Home Rule state. At the same time, it does say that cities and counties can do city and county stuff that they need to do. The legislature also passes laws instructing cities what to do, like Senate Bill 285. This makes for very inconsistent outcomes in lawsuits, and very grumpy cities in North Carolina.Here are some inconsistent court rulings for people who like the nitty gritty...Court rulings sometimes rule like North Carolina is a Home Rule state, and sometimes like a Dillon’s rule state. In one case, a homebuilders association sued Charlotte for imposing construction fines, claiming that the state doesn’t *actually* let them do that. The court sided with Charlotte, and said “well, the city does need to cover the cost of its regulation, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”. In another case, the Smith Southern Baptist Church sued the city of Durham, claiming that they were not allowed to charge them to collect fees for stormwater because the state didn’t give them that authority. The court basically said, “You’re out of your element, Durham,” and sided with the Church.
Conclusion? This probably means fights between cities and the state will continue. Game on.
The state of North Carolina has basically said to cities, “Look, do what you have to do because we don’t want to do everything because we are kinda busy plus we don’t know what you need except do NOT do stuff we don’t want you to do. We’ll let you know because we’ll pass a law against what you do if we don’t like it. Kapish?”