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Local Government Law

Important Terms for Local Government Laws

There are some important terms to be aware of when you conduct local government law research.  The following is an explanation of some of the key terms you are likely to come across during your research.  


The legal document that sets forth the organization and framework for a local government is called a charter. Like the federal or state constitution, the local charter describes the powers, duties, and responsibilities of the various governmental branches and departments in a particular municipality or county.

Ordinances & Codes:

The day-to-day laws enacted by local governments are referred to as ordinances. Like statutes and regulations at the state level, ordinances have binding authority on all individuals and entities within the local jurisdiction in which they are enacted. They are also published in subject compilations called codes.

At the city level, the codes are typically referred to as municipal codes. Some local jurisdictions, including the city of Los Angeles, publish a regular code as well as an administrative code that focuses on the powers and duties of the various legal institutions within the jurisdiction. Local government codes, like state codes, are typically the best tools to use to find current laws on a particular topic.

Please note that for most major local governing units in the United States, there are both print and electronic versions of the charter and code(s).

Organization of Local Government Codes

Codes are divided into major divisions and subdivisions (sometimes called titles, chapters or articles) that ultimately are broken down into numbered sections. When citing to a code section, you generally include the abbreviation for the code and the section number:


L.A.M.C. § 48.02 is a citation to section 48.02 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code.

At the end of each code section, there will typically be a parenthetical note indicating the citation to each ordinance that created or amended that section. 


(Ord. 96-0045 § 6, 1996)

This is a citation to section 6 of Ordinance #96-0045, enacted in 1996, and such a citation can appear as a parenthetical note at the end of a code section. 

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