Initiated City Ordinances: 3 Things to Know

When you think of the initiative process, it’s likely that your first thought is a statutory initiative or an initiated constitutional amendment. However, many states also allow the initiative process at the local level. In fact, many states that don’t allow the initiative process at the state level still allow it at the local level. This local initiative process takes place through city ordinances.

City ordinances are essentially just local laws. A municipal government enacts city ordinances. A municipality is a city, town, village, or borough, in a state where municipal corporation has been established.

City ordinances generally have to do with things like public safety and health, like zoning or safety regulations.

While not all city ordinances come from the initiative process, many do. In these cases, the law is referred to as an initiated city ordinance.

What is an initiated city ordinance?

The end product of an initiated city ordinance is no different than a regular city ordinance. It’s a law that governs a certain municipality. However, the difference comes in the origin of the law.

As we mentioned earlier, an initiated city ordinance is one that came about through the initiative process. In other words, the law began with a petition.

Here are three things you should know about initiated city ordinances.

1. Is an initiated city ordinance different than a statutory initiative?

While it may be tempting to get confused between an initiated city ordinance and a statutory initiative, they aren’t the same thing. Although both create a new law through the initiative process, their similarities end there.

The statutory initiative process, as mentioned in this blog, takes place at the state level. That means that a state that allows for a statutory initiative allows for the initiative process as a whole. However, there are many states, like Pennsylvania, that allow the initiative process at the local level only.

Citizens in these kinds of states still have some power to initiate change and enact laws that they feel are important. While the laws may not having reaching implications across the state, they can still be effective locally.

2. Is an initiated city ordinance different than an initiated constitutional amendment?

In a word, yes. The only thing that an initiated city ordinance and an initiated constitutional amendment have in common is that they are both initiated. In other words, they both start out as a petition.

In the case of an initiated constitutional amendment, the petition has the end goal of changing the state’s constitution. Not every state allows this, but many, like Florida, do.

However, as mentioned earlier, an initiated city ordinance serves to create a new local law.

Basically, the only thing these two things have in common is the initiative process itself.

3. How does the initiative process work for city ordinances?

When someone wants to use the initiative process for a city ordinance, the first step is to check with the local municipal government. As is usually the case with the initiative process, the requirements are relatively similar across the board. However, there are specific requirements that usually vary from state to state and city to city.

Before embarking on the initiative process for initiated city ordinances, it’s wise to check with local government for specifics. This helps to avoid any crucial missteps in the process.

Some things that can almost always be expected are minimum signature requirements and certain deadlines by which to submit those signatures. Once again, the actual number of required signatures and specific dates for deadlines will vary by municipality.

When you decide that you’re ready to get started with an initiated city ordinance, let us know.