State Senate Teases Memphis (Literally) by Updating its De-Annexation bill

The new version, introduced out of nowhere as the legislature headed to closure, seemed originally to contain terms consistent with Mempbhis' proposed "right-sizing" measure, but an overnight update presented the city with a stricter timeline.



Watson on the Senate floor Tuesday - JB
  • JB
  • Watson on the Senate floor Tuesday
It’s a fairly gentle nudge (certainly as compared to the somewhat brutal shove of a year ago), but the General Assembly has sent another prompt to Memphis on the matter of urban de-annexation.

This was Senate Bill 641, which was dusted off on Tuesday by its original sponsor, state Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson) and taken on a quick run-through of two committees before landing on the Senate floor for renewed action (billed with mock theatricality  as “long-awaited and much-anticipated” by its sponsor) as the legislature raced through final measures preparatory to adjournment.

The latest version of the bill — the House counterpart of which, HB 943 by Watson’s fellow Hamilton Countian Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah), remains in committee limbo, making passage this year a moot point — bears a couple of amendments that would soften the blow for the state’s large municipalities.

One is that, while a referendum on de-annexation can, as in the first version, be called via a petition signed by 20 percent of the eligible voters in an area annexed since 1998, the resulting referendum would now have to be submitted to the voters of the entire affected municipality.

That’s a stiffer test.

The other major change would take any municipality off the hook that should, by January 1, 2018,  pass its own version of a de-annexation measure (in Memphis’ case, that would be the still-pending “right-sizing” measure, presented to the City Council by a local task force early this year and now being appraised in forums held around town).

The amendment specifies only that the municipality’s alternative de-annexation ordinance must be enacted by the January 1, 2018, but sets no mandatory  terminal date for the actual fulfilment of the de-annexation process. That means that the 2020 deadline for completion specified by the Memphis/Shelby County task force would be acceptable. [But see changed language in UPDATE below.]

During floor discussion, a question about  the key amendment strengthening the prerogatives  of municipalities  revealed inadvertently that the source of the amending language came originally from Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), though state Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) was listed as the amendment sponsor.

When state Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) queried Yager about the thrust of the amendment, Yager deferred to Norris for an answer.

Effectively maintaining a certain measure of suspense, senators agreed by mutual consent to postpone voting on the bill  until a final planned Senate session on Wednesday morning.

UPDATE: Kelsey's question resulted in a major -- and, from the point of view of Memphis, perhaps harsher -- turn on the bill.

After overnight discussions between Kelsey, Yager, Watson, and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, the following change was made in the language of the relevant Yager amendment:

Whereas the original version read as follows:

"The comoprehensive deannexation plan ordinance may call for referenda to approve or disapprove of particular territories identified in the comprehensive deannexation plan.,"

the revised version now reads:

"The comprehensive deannexation plan ordinance may call for referenda to approve or disapprove the deannexation of particular territories identified in the comprehensive deannexation plan provided that any referendum called for in the ordinance must be held before January 1, 2019."[Our italics]

When the Senate reconvened on Wednesday, Norris read the new language aloud.

Kelsey expressed his gratitude to Norris for "clarifying the issue," and the new, more stringent language was adopted, 29-1.

The newly revised version of the completed bill itself passed the Senate 29-3, with the dissenters being Sens. Lee Harris and Sara Kyle (both D-Memphis) and Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville).

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