Researching State and City Codes

​Knowing state laws and city codes is essential to performing the duties of a city council member, mayor and city employee. In addition, city officials must also be cognizant of the state’s administrative rules as they frequently provide more detail than state law. Law and rules are often amended or repealed and it takes effort to stay abreast of any changes. It is also important to note that city laws cannot supersede or conflict with state and federal laws.

Code of Iowa

Iowa’s state laws can be found in the Code of Iowa. The Code is organized, updated and published by the Iowa Legislative Services Agency and is republished in full every odd year. There are also supplements provided in even years. The Code is divided into various chapters with each covering a particular item. For example, Chapter 380 is titled ‘City Legislation’ and provides the laws that govern how cities approve legislation such as ordinances and resolutions. Within the chapter are several sections that detail a particular part of the law. Section 380.6, for example, explains the effective date of approved measures.

Some cities order a set of books from the Iowa Legislative Services Agency that contain the Code and have them available for use at city hall. Another way to access the Code is to use the Iowa Legislature’s website. The site provides an online version of the Code which can be sorted by chapter and section or searched by keyword.

Iowa Administrative Code

Administrative codes are often created to give more detailed rules when the intent of a state code is not quite clear enough or when a state code directs an agency to adopt specific rules. Administrative rules are adopted by various agencies and committees that are tasked with this duty as detailed in various part of state law. For example, Sections 384.13-15 of the Code of Iowa establish the City Finance Committee and state that it shall implement rules relating to budget amendments, accounting practices and procedures for transferring money between funds, among other things. These rules provide the specific requirements for various items and carry the weight of law.

The Iowa Administrative Code can be found online at the Iowa Legislature’s website where the various rules can be searched and reviewed by chapter and section. The Administrative Bulletin is published biweekly and contains actions and rules adopted by state agencies. The bulletin can be accessed online and is also emailed to those who have subscribed for updates.

City Code of Ordinances

At the local level, city councils pass ordinances to govern their community. Again, city ordinances cannot conflict with any state or federal laws. City ordinances can cover a wide range of activities and each city should carefully review codes to ensure they fit their community. City council members and city staff should continually review their city code book so they are aware of the laws that govern their citizens and are able to answer any questions regarding them. Frequent reviews will also help maintain the code book so that it is up to date and well organized.

City code books are usually arranged into chapters that detail specific laws on a given topic, such as animal control or public nuisances. As with the Code of Iowa, city code chapters are often subdivided into sections that cover different parts of a law.

Section 380.8 of the Code of Iowa states that a copy of the city code book must be available at the city clerk’s office. Additional copies are typically placed at the public library and the county law library as well as on a city’s Web site. Many cities also provide a copy of the code book to their elected officials. Cities are also required to maintain the code book by either compiling an annual supplement that lists additions and changes, inserting new ordinances and amendments into the code book, or by having their code book codified at least once every five years (which is often done by a codification company). Please visit the Codification page for additional information.

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