Here they go again. This is the week scheduled for the Tennessee General Assembly's consideration of several school bills relating to Memphis and Shelby County. Once again, we will see if the elected representatives of constituencies far away from the concerns of Shelby Countians will make another attempt to dictate our educational future. Galvanized into action by Senate majority leader Mark Morris (R-Collierville) and other Shelby County suburban legislators, the Assembly's GOP majority has loyally complied each of the last two years — in 2011 passing Norris-Todd, the kicker of which was to enable suburban school districts to begin forming in August of this year, and following up with a pair of bills in 2012 designed to expedite that process.
Federal judge Hardy Mays struck down last year's key bill, inasmuch as it, like the others, opened up the municipal-school-district process for Shelby County only and not statewide (those supportive Republican legislators from elsewhere may have been loyal, but they didn't stop being self-interested — or mindful of their own constituents' views). Given that the other two bills would seem to be vulnerable to the same judicial reasoning, whatever gets passed this year would seemingly need to apply everywhere. They are written that way, more or less, and it remains to be seen whether they'll be a hard sell with the 2013 version of the General Assembly.
Whether or not, it's time once again for Memphis to endure the legislative equivalent of a grade school time-out, to be told what it needs to do — or permit to be done — to satisfy the steely masterminds of the central state government in Nashville. It's gotten to the point that when the Shelby County Commission took up the issue of expanding the Unified School Board from 7 to 13, suburban Republican commissioner Terry Roland, focusing on the unresolved issue of municipal school districts, opined that he would prefer to bypass any action by the commission and "call Nashville" to get something done to his liking.
Other members of the commission pointed out the obvious: that, where the legitimacy of school-related bills is concerned, it's Hardy Mays who'll be the judge of all that, not Mark Norris or Ron Ramsey, the increasingly imperial (but undeniably shrewd) head of the Senate, or any other legislator from wheresoever. Doing a reduction on that, geographically speaking, the judgment will come from Memphis, not Nashville.
And it's not just schools where the urge exists to dictate in Nashville (and to slavishly follow in the Memphis suburbs). The General Assembly has in recent years passed bill after bill taking away the power of local jurisdictions to regulate their own affairs, and, alas, Governor Bill Haslam has shrugged and signed them into law (demurring so far only in the case of a 2012 bill curtailing the rights of Vanderbilt, in his own backyard).
Most recently, the notorious Glen Casada, a GOP House member from suburban Nashville, has begun to push through a bill restricting the right of localities to pass legislation affecting wage issues — like wage-theft ordinances that have been, or were about to be, considered by the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission.
Call Nashville indeed, and tell the folks up there to stop treading on us.