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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.

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Annexation Legislation Faces Avalanche of Opt-Out Requests

Upon requests from several state lawmakers to exclude counties in their districts from a proposed moratorium on forced municipal annexations, amendments are under consideration that may make Senate Bill 279 more palatable to local Tennessee government officials.

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. However, an amendment from the chamber’s State & Local Government Committee re-wrote the bill, placing a moratorium on annexations not completed by April 1.

“We are not sent here by local governments. We are sent here by individual citizens, and if a geographical area is being annexed, it is my contention and my argument to this body that the citizens that are within that geographical area should have a say as to whether they are annexed or not,” said Sen. Bo Watson, sponsor of the Senate bill.

The proposal now is to put off voting on all measures related to annexation that are currently under discussion in the Legislature. The bills, five of them in the House and Senate, would be put before the Tennessee Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations for “a comprehensive review and evaluation of the efficacy of state policies.”

TACIR is made up of public officials from state and local government, as well as private citizens for the stated purpose of working out problems between different layers of government. Under the study plan, annexations that are in progress, but not completed, must halt while the TACIR review is underway.

Senate Bill 279 had nine amendments attached to it. Three were withdrawn, while two exempting specific counties passed the Senate on voice votes.

Sen. Steve Southerland’s amendment allowing the counties of Cocke, Green, Hamblen and Sevier to opt out of the moratorium was one amendment that passed. “This bill as written will put at jeopardy over $300 million in investments and over 1,800 jobs in three different projects in my district,” said the Republican from Morristown. “My counties have asked that they be taken out.”

Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, brought the other amendment that passed, which exempts Davidson County from the moratorium, primarily becauseMetro’s charter uses the term “annexation” to refer to expansion of services provided in an area, not geographical growth since it is one government within the entire county.

Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, brought an amendment to opt-out Williamson County, while Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, brought one to opt-out Madison County. However, both rolled their amendments to the heel to hear Watson’s explanation of his two amendments, both of which were not timely filed.

Watson’s two amendments would change the dates of the moratorium to April 1, 2013 through April 1, 2014, and addresses the opting out issue by allowing county commissioners to pass a resolution, by a two-thirds vote, that any municipality in the county could opt-out of the moratorium.

“Basically…adoption of this amendment would allow the local county government to make the decision whether this moratorium would apply to them or not,” said Watson, a Republican from Hixson.

The decision was made to roll the bill to Wednesday’s calendar, which marks the bill’s sixth appearance on the upper chamber’s floor for final passage.

Senate Bill 279’s companion House Bill 475 is scheduled for its first House floor vote Wednesday. It has 10 amendments attached to it, with eight of them dealing with counties wishing to opt out.

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

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Cities Considering Annexing Land Better Hurry

Property owners across the state will have a two-year reprieve from forced annexation – and the tax increases that come with it — if a bill moving in the Tennessee Legislature becomes law.

The original intent of Senate Bill 279 was to require a majority vote for annexation by qualified voters before a city could annex their land. The amended bill unanimously passed the Senate State & Local Government Committee Tuesday.

Sen. Bo Watson, who has brought some version of the legislation for six years, said the bill “seeks to remedy an obvious flaw in the current law, a flaw that has been addressed by 47 other states. That flaw is our current law gives no voice to the citizens subject to an annexation ordinance.

“It is in effect annexation without representation, ergo it is taxation without representation,” said the Republican from Hixson.

The amendment brought by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris made the bill and sent it, along with five other pieces of legislation, to the Tennessee Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) for “a comprehensive review and evaluation of the efficacy of state policies” in Title 6.

TACIR is made up of public officials from state and local government, as well as private citizens, and seeks to work out problems between different layers of government.

Norris, who is also the chair of TACIR, said that one of the “unintended consequences of this fine legislation” was that a number of cities were accelerating the pace of annexation.

To stop cities from annexing additional land while the TACIR review is underway, the amendment would impose a moratorium on annexations that are in progress but not completed. The ban would extend from April 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.

The second reason Norris gave was that in 2012, TACIR started looking at Title 6, which was codified as a result of Public Chapter 1101, also known as the Growth Policy Act, in 1998.

PC 1101 required local officials within each of 92 non-metropolitan counties to work together to shape growth policy through the development of 20-year growth plans. However, the act did not impose a single, statewide solution.

“Our counties and towns are pretty much at year 15 through that process,” Norris said, adding there has never been “a stop, look and see” about how cities are doing in the planning process.

“Now we have this bill and maybe six or seven other bills all sort of taking bites out of 1101, and we don’t have a way of really fully absorbing what the impacts will be, not only on our constituents, but the counties or the cities in which they live,” the Collierville senator said.

Five other bills dealing with either annexation or development or growth were also sent to TACIR for study by the committee. (Story continues below graphic.)

AnnexationBills

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, sponsor of two of the bills (SB1316 and SB 1381) sent to TACIR, wanted clarification on the moratorium.

“This would be a moratorium on hostile annexation, but still permit the petition annexation?” she asked.

Watson said the amendment “does not prohibit consensual annexation. It allows for that if that’s what one would chose to do.”

He added that while the amendment “doesn’t solve the problem we’re seeking to solve, it is a step in the right direction. I know the chairman of TACIR is on this committee, and I would expect that this particular aspect of annexation would be specifically addressed by TACIR.”

Sen. Ken Yager, chair of the Senate committee, expressed his appreciation for “the cooperative attitude” of Watson and House companion bill sponsor, Rep. Mark Carter, R-Chattanooga, as well as Norris’ work on the issue.

“I think it’s properly characterized as a time out to give us a chance to look at it, and it is a step in the right direction,” the Republican from Harriman said. “I appreciate your gentlemen’s leadership on this.”

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