The 2017 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, which came to an end last week, was one of the more momentous in recent years, as measured by the triumph of Governor Bill Haslam's "IMPROVE Act," which levies significant gasoline and diesel price increases to begin the long overdue process of rebuilding and renovating the state's thoroughfares.
There were fewer novelty bills and crank measures than usual, particularly in the area of social issues, though, unsurprisingly, a few measures friendly to the gun lobby found their way to passage — notably one entitled the Tennessee Hearing Protection Act, which basically removes restrictions from the sale of silencers for firearms.
And Memphis, along with the state's other urban centers, experienced a shot fired across the bow with the Senate's passage, on the session's last day, of a de-annexation measure by Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson). As originally submitted, the bill was a far milder version of the sponsor's 2016 bill that would have given residents of areas annexed since 1998 an easy route to severance from the annexing cities. The new version requires that an approving referendum must be held, not just in the territory seeking de-annexation, but in the municipality at large.
Another proviso, apparently shepherded into the bill by state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), would have given cities with their own de-annexation formulas (like Memphis' "right-sizing" plan) almost unlimited time to carry them out. But sharp questioning on the point by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) forced a last-day amendment that compelled that such plans be carried out within a year after an enactment deadline of January 1, 2018.
The House will no doubt act on its version of the bill in the 2018 session.
• Two of the five Republicans who conducted the annual end-of-session press conference in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the Capitol in Nashville last Wednesday continue to figure in speculation about the 2018 governor's race, and the time is growing nigh for them to make a definitive decision. The candidacy of one of the two, Norris, is a fairly sure thing. Anybody who drives a car in Shelby County has been exposed in recent weeks to Norris' billboards looming over major thoroughfares. The billboards are also up in various other locations in West Tennessee. But Norris contended in Nashville last week that his purpose in having the signs erected had been merely to further legislation in the respective areas mentioned.
The other possible gubernatorial entry at the end-of-session press conference, House Majority Leader Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), continues to be noncommittal about a governor's race, which would find her up against several multi-milionaires in the Republican primary. She's between a rock and a hard place, with her speakership coming under annual challenge from members of her party's ultra-right wing, who depict her as that most unfashionable thing for Republicans, a moderate. But it is that very identity, more accurately described as centrism, that helps give her a shot at the governorship.