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Conference Committee Looms for Annexation Bill

A conference committee appears to be in the immediate future for annexation legislation that started out very simple and has morphed into two very different bills in the state House and Senate.

The original intent of Senate Bill 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. However, separate amendments filed by their respective GOP sponsors – Speaker Pro Tempore Sen. Bo Watson in the Senate and freshman Rep. Mike Carter in the House – have it at odds.

Thursday, Carter got his version of SB 279 through the House by a vote of 78-16.

Watson moved his version off the Senate floor Wednesday with an all-Republican vote of 27-0. Democratic senators simply refused to vote.

But because differences between the Housr and Senate versions, a conference committee will likely convene Friday to work out the differences, according to Watson.

“It will come back to the Senate, and we’ll take a look at it,” the Hixson lawmaker told TNReport after the House vote. “They allowed some counties to opt-out. We debated against that pretty vigorously in the Senate, so I don’t think that’s something the Senate can accept. Opting out is an easy way of getting the Legislature to take the pressure off of local government.”

In the Senate, the so-called “amendment that makes the bill” would place a moratorium on residential or agricultural annexations by ordinance from April 1, 2013 to May 1, 2014. County commissions would be allowed to vote one time to extend the start date – as long as they pass it with a two-thirds majority.

The House’s legislation keeps the moratorium, but allows the county commissions to extend the start date via a simple majority vote.

In addition, the House allowed 12 counties to opt out of the mandate, despite warnings former Carter, a former Hamilton County General Sessions Court judge, that for the measure to withstand constitutional scrutiny, the Legislature must “apply the law statewide.”

Carter argued that a “rational basis” must underpin a county’s opt-out request, not merely political expedience. The Republican from Ooltewah added that the House measure does provide for opt-out if  a local jurisdiction “is going to suffer substantial and demonstrable financial injury.”

Both versions refer the bill to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations for “a comprehensive review and evaluation of the efficacy of state policies,” and that the findings are to be reported back to both legislative bodies by Jan. 14, 2014.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.