Virginia to Redefine Relationship with Localities..On Some Issues

With the recent passage of Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions or Constitutional resolutions in more than 95 communities in Virginia, people want to know what these resolutions do. To answer that question, citizens need to understand the Dillon Rule in Virginia.

Since 1896, the Commonwealth of Virginia has been the national gold standard when it comes to the Dillon Rule. The Dillon Rule is a legal term to describe the relationship between the state and its localities. Under Dillon’s rule, localities can only exercise powers granted to them by the state.

When localities want to make a statement or pass a local law there are three ways that is achieved. The first is “proclamation” which allows the mayor of the town or city to proclaim basically anything he or she wants on an issue, but it does not carry the weight of law.

Localities also pass “ordinances” which have the weight of law granted to localities by the state. And finally, localities can pass “resolutions” which are an expression of the will of the council or supervisors. Resolutions can carry the weight of law to some degree, if they agree with state law, but mostly they are used to make a statement of principle.

The Second Amendment resolutions sweeping the commonwealth are an expression of local governing bodies. In other words, they are sending a message to the General Assembly that they are willing to do what is necessary to protect the Constitutional rights of their citizens.

While localities may not have the power to stop unconstitutional laws coming out of Richmond, they may be willing to exercise the power of their budgetary control to de-fund areas of local government the state may use to enforce new gun control measures. How this plays out over the next year will test the strength of these resolutions, but there is more on the horizon and people should take note.

Beyond the immediate debate of gun control, some members of the general assembly and their allies in the media are stoking a debate of looking at ways to dismantle some aspects of Dillon’s Rule to give more regulating and taxing ability to local government.

Given the rhetoric coming from the media and elected members of the general assembly as seen in pre-filed bills for consideration, the general assembly may unravel the longstanding relationship between the state and its local governments.

As reported in the Washington Post earlier this month in an article titled, “Why Arlington and Fairfax can’t tax plastic bags—and why that might change,” Virginia lawmakers say they will probably let counties and cities look for ways to impose taxes and regulations locally. The article quotes Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), who says, “I think it’s likely we’ll do some workarounds, to give local government more authority.” This unraveling of Dillon’s Rule may lead to localized plastic bag bans, localized bans on AirBnb and Uber, localized bans on fracking and new local burdensome regulations on private property.

Giving power to local governments to tax and regulate more will only create overbearing localities in the spirit of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Gun control is the hot topic right now, but we haven’t seen anything yet if the General Assembly is serious about diluting Dillion’s Rule. Doing so would fundamentally change for the worse how business, agriculture, private property and liberties are protected. We must be vigilant to protect the Virginia we all love and believe in.

This article was published in the Culpeper Star Exponent on January 4, 2020