Local Laws and Government

Although local laws and governments have their limitations, local laws are often created and put into effect in response to the citizens of the community that are governed by them. Local laws govern a particular area that is smaller than a state, such as counties, cities and towns. Different states have different laws and regulations for individual communities and how much independence or autonomy they can have from the larger jurisdictions they fall within. Local laws make it possible for smaller communities or geographic areas to have a system of laws that pertains to the specific needs of that area. Federal and state laws typically override local laws if the federal or state government has an issue or contradiction with a local law.

History of Local Laws

From the beginning of European settlement in what is now the United States, Americans have maintained a strong support for local self-government. They have historically been involved in matters pertaining to local laws and governance, what its purpose is, how it is funded, and how it affects the lives of the people in the community that are under the jurisdiction of local laws.

This nation began as small, isolated settlements that are referred to as the 13 Colonies. Even though they were under British rule until the American Revolution, for a period of time prior to the war the colonies had been allowed to self-govern under a policy that is now known as salutary neglect (the idea that if the colonies were left alone, they would flourish out of necessity and Great Britain would then get to reap the benefits of an increased and taxed trade.) Much of the self-determination that made the U.S. the rich and powerful country it is today, stems from this period of self-government, self-sufficiency and from when we gained independence.

Four Types of Local Government

Over the course of America’s governmental development, different types of local government have evolved. The four main types of local government in the United States include:

Counties Counties are the largest unit of local government. There are roughly 8,000 different county governments in the United States. In Louisiana, counties are called parishes and in Alaska they are called boroughs.

Municipalities Municipalities include cities, towns, villages and boroughs. (In the U.S., the term burrough typically means a neighborhood but this is not its technical definition, and it can be used to describe different units of local government or administrative division below the state level.) There are roughly 19,000 municipalities in the United States.

Special Districts There are approximately 33,000 special districts in the United States whose functions are often similar to those of municipalities. Special districts have the authority to levy taxes and to spend public money.

School Districts Aside from New York City and a few other Northeast communities, the 15,000+ school districts in the U.S. operate independently of city governments.

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