Friday, January 20, 2012

The Dillon Rule & The Height of Grass

Today, we took up a very controversial bill in Cities, Counties & Towns - the regulation of the height of grass and mowing of weeds.  No, I'm not kidding.

Virginia is a Dillon Rule state.  That means that a locality cannot exercise any power unless the state has expressly authorized it.  Each year, we get a ton of bills that come through from localities asking the state for authority to do different things. 

For example, in my first term, I introduced legislation that would add Fairfax County to the list of counties that could adopt a meals tax by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors instead of referendum.  I also introduced a bill to allow Fairfax County to add a $4 fee to each traffic ticket to pay for an electronic ticket processing system that would eliminate the need for about 10 full-time employees and save the police thousands of man hours.  An Arlington County delegate told me that he had to introduce legislation to allow his locality to issue paychecks twice per month instead of every two weeks.

One of my committee assignments is Cities, Counties & Towns and our subcommittee hears City and Town Charter changes which govern their authority.  We also hear bills to give Cities, Counties & Town the authority to regulate the height of grass and weeds.  This year, our subcommittee voted to the City of Hopewell, the County of Prince George, and the Town of Cincoteague.  Last year we added James City County.  In 2010, it was the City of Winchester, the City of Colonial Heights.

This year, Delegate Jim Lemunyon got tired of doing this every year and introduced legislation to allow any county to regulate grass height if they choose so they don't have to come through us.  I cosponsored his bill. 

Every one of these grass bills requires thousands of hours of government time to push through. 
  1. Each locality has a legislative staff that prepares their legislative agenda
  2. It is vetted by a local board and delegation
  3. The legislation is drafted by the Division of Legislative Services and goes through a series of reviews;
  4. Legislation is then introduced and processed by various people;
  5. We then consider it in a 7-person subcommittee with staff (and spectators);
  6. It's then considered by a 22-person committee with staff (and spectators);
  7. It's then considered by the entire 100-member House of Delegates with staff (and spectators);
  8. Steps 5-7 are redone by the 40-member State Senate;
  9. The Speaker & President Pro Tempore of the Senate signs it;
  10. Then the Governor's Office vets the bill before he signs it;
  11. Then it has to go to the people who draft the Code of Virginia who need to work it into the official Acts of Assembly and then incorporate it into the Code;
  12. Then the Code of Virginia is republished and updates are sent out in paper form all around the state; AND THEN
  13. Electronic databases are updated so that every version of the Code everywhere is current.
  14. Then and only then, the locality can begin the process of amending its local ordinance which requires a who series of steps. 
All that so each locality can regulate grass height and weeds. 

Delegate Lemunyon's bill would eliminate steps 1 through 13 when it comes to a county's authority to regulate the height of grass and weeds if it chose to do so.  His bill passed our subcommittee 5-4 and died on a 11-10 vote in full committee this morning.  Sometimes the legislature gives you a headace.


  1. Why is the government legislating the height of grass at all?

    I am firmly in favor of the Dillon Rule -- the primary focus of our Nation puts the power in State hands -- but I wonder why the State thinks it needs to regulate everything.

    No one needs the power to regulate grass height. The only thing such a regulation does is (potentially) raise revenue.

    1. In the case of grass, it's a balancing act for government, in this case, it should be local government. If your neighbor decides to just quit mowing, would you mind that? Most people would after a while. If it bothers you, how would you deal with it? Maybe ask the locality to make the neighbor cut down the weeds?

  2. Tess:

    I agree that there is some value in the Dillon Rule, but on grass height I don't see it.

    In places where people live closer together, ensuring some minimum level of uniformity helps promote everyone's property values.

    The point of the bill wasn't too allow it, but to allow localities the right to do it if they want.

    Right now, we waste an extraordinary amount of time giving localities the authority to do it because it is done one locality at a time and there are hundreds of them.

    From my point of view, this one was not a big deal.

  3. Delegate Surovell, thanks for your blog and reply. Mark Flynn