VOL. 9 | NO. 12 | Saturday, March 19, 2016
Harris, Towns Hope to Delay Monday De-Annexation Vote
By Bill Dries
Memphis Democrats in the Tennessee Legislature are hoping to delay a scheduled Monday, March 21, state Senate floor vote on a deannexation bill that cleared the state House a week ago.
“This train is moving very fast,” Democratic Sen. Lee Harris said Friday, March 18. “The city of Memphis has never made a significant presentation about the city of Memphis’ finances to the relevant committees or to the Senate members,” he added. “Minimally, we need to send this back to committee so that we can have some airing out of what the facts are and what the known consequences are. … Minimally, if you are going to devastate a city, you should know exactly what that means and what you are doing.”
Memphis Democrats in the Tennessee Legislature – led by state Sen. Lee Harris, left, and state Rep. Joe Towns – are working to delay a scheduled Monday Senate vote on a deannexation bill in Nashville.
(Daily News/Bill Dries)
Harris, the Senate Democratic leader, has requested a legal opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office on the deannexation bill, which would permit referendum petitions to deannex previously annexed areas in five Tennessee cities that were annexed as far back as 1998.
In his written request to Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, Harris said comments from sponsors of the bill “suggest that the purpose of the bill is retribution against the city of Memphis, among other communities.”
Harris said Friday he doesn’t think it is likely Slatery’s office could have a legal opinion prepared by Monday even with a request to expedite the opinion.
“Let’s use as much of this three weeks as possible,” he said referring to the time left in the 2016 legislative session which adjourns in early April. “If we use up as much of the three weeks as possible, yes we have time to get an AG opinion. … In two days, not a lot can get done.”
Harris spoke with Democratic state Rep. Joe Towns of Memphis outside City Hall Friday afternoon.
Towns was the most vocal opponent of the de-annexation bill during the two-hour debate that preceded Monday’s House vote.
Towns called Friday on Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to “use every tool in his arsenal to fight against this nonsense – everything, all the way to taking it to court.”
“It’s happened before where they are picking and targeting Memphis for selective kinds of control,” Towns said. “We don’t need their help. We don’t want their help. We resent their help.”
The question Harris posed for the legal opinion is: “Is it lawful and constitutional to approve a law that takes arguably punitive action against the city of Memphis and a handful of other communities on the basis of retribution, some claim of misconduct or other claim of egregious behavior related to the city’s lawful action?”
The claim of “egregious” annexations is in the House version of the bill approved earlier this week and its House sponsor, Ooltewah Republican Mike Carter, said the term is essential to the proposal’s constitutionality. Without it, Carter told Memphis Democrat Raumesh Akbari that his proposal would likely be declared unconstitutional.
Akbari sought unsuccessfully before the House vote on the full measure to amend out the term.
Harris, in seeking the legal opinion, also questions the term as a characterization of the 18 annexations by Memphis since 1998 that are potentially affected by the de-annexation proposal.
“Although it is true that the city of Memphis has undertaken annexations, Memphis’ actions were authorized under Tennessee law,” Harris wrote. “In fact, in litigation on this very issue, a Tennessee court confirmed that Memphis’ actions were lawful.”
Democratic state Sen. Reginald Tate of Memphis announced Thursday he was withdrawing his co-sponsorship of the Senate version of the bill.
In a written statement, Tate said he withdrew his support because of changes to the bill that would make areas of Memphis annexed as far back as 1998 eligible for de-annexation through referendum.
Tate said he favors de-annexation as an option only for the Southwind and Windyke areas that he represents. Those areas were annexed in 2013.
“I supported the bill because it would have given communities in my district a referendum vote – a say in the matter that they were not granted in 2013,” Tate said in the statement. “I understand the concerns of my constituents in District 33 who want the right to have their voices heard by referendum. But I must take into consideration the implications the newly amended legislation would have on Memphis and Shelby County as a whole.”