Applause and cheers went up in both the House and Senate Friday afternoon when Senate Bill 279 dealing with annexation passed by a vote of 59-32, sending the legislation to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.
Sent to a conference committee earlier in the day because of the differences between amendments filed by the sponsors in the Senate and House – Speaker Pro Tempore Sen. Bo Watson in the Senate and freshman Rep. Mike Carter – the House spent almost 35 minutes debating the conference committee report before approving it.
The earlier Senate vote was unanimous.
The original intent of SB 279 was to require that local voters directly sign off on annexations before a city could move to absorb more land into its taxing jurisdiction. The final version is completely different.
“This bill is certainly not what I started with you,” said Carter, a former Hamilton County General Sessions Judge. “Realizing that there are good cities that provide utilities and provide the necessaries that they bill for, realizing those cities exists, I said, ‘Wait a minute. I cannot let my need in one area adversely affect the entire state.’ That began the process that resulted in these modifications.”
The final legislation does three things:
- It places a moratorium on any annexation by ordinance of residential or farm land not finalized by April 15, 2013 through May 15, 2015;
- It provides county commissions the opportunity to opt out of the moratorium by a simple majority vote, “if the city is going to suffer substantial and demonstrable financial injury,” and,
- It sends the legislation to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations for a “a comprehensive review and evaluation of the efficacy of state policies,” and those findings are to be reported back to both legislative bodies by Jan. 14, 2014.
“This bill has been amended down to the very bare bones,” said the Republican from Ooltewah, who added that the moratorium only applies to residential and farm land and does not affect any commercial, industrial, retail properties, nor any roadways necessary to get there.
Opposition arose from both sides of the aisle. Reasons given against the legislation were wide ranging.
Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, said his county wanted out of the bill because they felt it was “punitive to put the moratorium on us when there was no problem to solve.”
Rep. William Lambert, R-Cottontown, expressed concern that the moratorium will cost Sumner County jobs, while Rep. Johnny Show, D-Bolivar, said at the local level “somebody could have a mean streak and just decide that they want to do something to mess us up.”
However, one mind was changed from wishing to opt out his county. Rep. Tillman Goins, R-Morristown, had asked on Thursday that Hamblen County be opted out. However, he changed his mind due the change to a simple majority vote in the conference committee report.
“I have confidence in my local elected officials that they’re going to do the right thing to not impede any kind of growth in my community at the expense of their own elections,” he said.