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VOL. 131 | NO. 58 | Tuesday, March 22, 2016

De-Annexation Bill Sent Back to Legislative Committee

By Bill Dries

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The de-annexation bill pending in the Tennessee Legislature was sent back to a Senate committee in Nashville Monday, March 21, after those favoring the bill raised numerous questions about amendments to it.

And the Senate sponsor of the bill pushed for a committee session Wednesday at noon where the city of Memphis is likely to make its case against the legislation as it currently stands.

When the Senate voted Monday to send the bill back to committee there were 13 amendments to the bill, most of them from opponents to the measure.

Shelby County and Memphis civic leaders were in the gallery as the state Senate voted Monday, March 21, on a de-annexation bill. The vote followed a weekend of political activity by Memphis Democrats in the Legislature, including state Sen. Lee Harris, left, and state Rep. Joe Towns, who are opposed to the bill.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

But the most vocal opponent was Republican Sen. Ken Yager of Kingston, the chairman of the Senate State and Local Committee – the committee the bill returns to.

“We are setting bad policy with the amendment in front of us,” said Yager, who favored the bill in its original form, before it was amended to apply to just six cities in the state, including Memphis.

“This bill … targets six cities,” Yager said. “I think targets is an appropriate word here.”

He also objected to language he says could allow for de-annex referendums on annexations earlier than the May 1998 annexation date in a previous version of the bill.

“We are giving pretty much a blank check for folks to go back many years instead of the effective date that we put in the Senate bill last year,” he said.

Republican sponsor Bo Watson of Hamilton County argued that legislators know the issues and the content of the bill, citing the amendments made.

“This is the completion of a promise that was made two years ago when we passed the bill that eliminated forced annexation by ordinance,” he said. He called the move back to committee “premature” and “distressing” as he urged the Senate to “get this behind us.”

But Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville also came out for the delay saying Watson had turned down his request to amend the bill to permit the city of Millington to voluntarily de-annex an area without requiring a referendum.

“You all need to know that,” he said. “So what’s the point of standing here and taking up these amendments. This is a sham.”

Norris also said the bill “has a lot of problems.”

“This bill gets into the courts of law the way it’s written, it’s not long for this world,” he added.

Yager said his intent was not to “run out the clock” in committee with three weeks left in the legislative session.

After he said that several times, Watson quoted Shakespeare, “Thou doeth protest too much.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro said he’s requested a legal opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General’s office on how the bill stands in relation to the Tennessee Constitution’s clause on general laws required for the state’s cities governed by home rule charters, like Memphis.

For that reason, Yager pushed for a committee meeting in a week’s time instead of Wednesday.

Lt. Gov. and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, however, said Wednesday would be plenty of time to get local leaders to Capital Hill.

“They are all in the gallery now. Let’s be perfectly honest about it,” he said referring to Memphis City Council members and leaders of the Greater Memphis Chamber, watching in the Senate chamber. “It will help the Nashville economy to make them stay two more nights.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said in a written statement that he will work with the committee and Senate leaders “to educate them on the drastic impact the bill could have in Memphis and our region.”

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