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VOL. 127 | NO. 28 | Friday, February 10, 2012

Norris To Withdraw Annexation Bills

By Bill Dries

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Tennessee State Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville said Thursday, Feb. 9, he plans to withdraw two bills affecting annexation in Shelby County.

Norris announced the withdrawal of the legislation following a legal opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office.

One bill would have taken the Grays Creek area of unincorporated Shelby County from the city of Memphis annexation reserve. The other would have required a referendum in order to annex an area in Shelby County and it would have permitted a referendum vote to deannex an area already taken in by a city.

The highly anticipated legal opinion said the first bill is “constitutionally suspect” because it affects one county or municipality.

The Tennessee Constitution gives the legislature the power to create, merge, consolidate and dissolve municipalities under general law. That authority includes methods “by which municipal boundaries may be altered.”

The alteration clause was added to the Tennessee Constitution in 1953. A 2009 ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court in the case of Highwoods Properties Inc. v. city of Memphis held that the intent of the clause was to eliminate problems “that had arisen in regard to the legislature enacting legislation affecting only one county or municipality.”

“In short, no Tennessee case has upheld an annexation statute with population classifications against a challenge under the municipal boundaries clause,” reads the legal opinion signed by Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr.

The population classifications are in the annexation and deannexation referendum legislation which would have applied the requirement to any city or town in a county with a population greater than 900,000.

Norris said the bills will be withdrawn during the Monday, Feb. 13, meeting of the State Senate.

Norris said he signed on as Senate sponsor of the bills because of requests from constituents who live in the Grays Creek area.

“Citizens in these communities want their voices to be heard which was the impetus for filing the legislation,” Norris said in a written statement. “Although we felt this would likely be the outcome, it was important enough to our constituents to file the bills and get the Attorney General’s opinion.”

The timing of the bills touched off moves by the Wharton administration and the Memphis City Council to annex the area.

The bills were also proposed as several suburban towns and cities consider forming their own municipal school districts. The boundaries for all of the proposed school districts include land in the Memphis annexation reserve.

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