Laws governing local ballot measures in Iowa
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This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in Iowa. It explains:
- Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
- How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.
Types of local government
Local government in Iowa consists of 99 counties and 947 cities. In addition, there are 527 special districts and 166 independent school districts.
Cities in Iowa are classified in one of two ways:
- Home rule charter city: of which there are 5 (Clinton, Fort Dodge, Marion, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids)
- General law city: of which there are 942
- Counties are also authorized to adopt a home rule charter, but currently none have done so.
- See also: School bond and tax elections in Iowa
Iowa requires a ballot measure if a school district exceeds the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) limit and to issue new bonding. Iowa has a school district budget growth limit which is set by the Iowa Legislature and approved by the Iowa Governor when the Iowa State Budget is deliberated. The current growth rate for public schools statewide is at four percent.
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Initiative process availability
- Charter cities
In Iowa, initiative is only available in charter cities. State statues mandate an initiative process for citizens to propose charter amendments through petition. Charter cities also have authority to permit an initiative process for ordinances.
The Iowa Supreme Court, in City of Clinton v. Sheridan, 530 N.W.2d 690 (Iowa 1995), held that general law cities are prohibited from adopting local initiative and referendum measures. The rationale is that state statutes grant municipal legislation power to city councils (Iowa Code § 364), and a city provision allowing electorate-initiated ordinances would improperly contradict these statutes. Authority could be granted through future state legislation. The court confirmed that charter cities can grant initiative and referendum power within the charter for local ordinances/measures. A recent Iowa Supreme Court case discusses the legislative versus administrative limits of this process (Berent v. City of Iowa City, 738 N.W.2d 193 (Iowa, 2007)).
| Ballot Law Portal|
|Laws Governing Ballot Measures|
There are no explicit constitutional provisions for local initiative. However, charter cities have authority to adopt initiative for ordinances through the municipal home rule provision of Iowa Constitution, Legislative Department, Section 38A
Iowa Code Section 372.11 grants initiative power for charter amendments and references the requirements of Section 362.4.
See law: Iowa Code Section 372.11, 362.4
Initiative process features in charter cities
|A guide to local ballot initiatives|
|Local I&R Laws in the 50 States|
|Source:Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with |
clipboards, conversations, and campaigns
Initiative in the top 10 most populated cities
|List of Most Populated Cities in Iowa|
|City||Population||City Type||Next election|
|Des Moines||206,599||General law||No I&R|
|Cedar Rapids||127,905||Charter||Special Election|
|Davenport||100,802||General law||No I&R|
|Sioux City||82,967||General law||No I&R|
|Iowa City||68,947||Charter||Special Election|
|Waterloo||68,653||General law||No I&R|
|Council Bluffs||62,466||General law||No I&R|
|Ames||59,042||General law||No I&R|
|Dubuque||58,234||General law||No I&R|
|West Des Moines||57,909||General law||No I&R|
8 of the top 10 most populated cities in Iowa are general law cities and do not have initiative. Two, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, are governed under a home rule charter. Initiative is available for charter amendments under state law. The Iowa City charter authorizes initiative for ordinances, Cedar Rapids does not.
- Research document of Iowa local I&R laws
- Iowa League of Cities
- Citizen's Guide to the Iowa City Home Rule Charter
- ↑ The U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 study of local governments
- ↑ Ballotpedia: Types and #'s of local government by state
- ↑ Legislative Guide to Iowa Local Initiative and Referendum
- ↑ IA Code Section 364.3
- ↑ IA Code Sec. 39.2
- ↑ US Census Bureau "City and Town Totals: Vintage 2011 (Population figures as of 2011 Census estimates)
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 US Census, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Iowa: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011