NASHVILLE (MCT) – Tennessee towns and cities would be banned from annexing any new territory without approval in a referendum of voters living within the area under legislation approved by a House panel on Wednesday.
"It is beyond me why ... we are one of just three states that does not allow people to vote on whether they want to their home and their land taken in by a city," said Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, sponsor of HB2371.
Carter had proposed similar legislation last year, but backed off pushing for passage after legislators approved a one-year statewide moratorium on annexations, except those requested by property owners, while the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations studied the issue.
TACIR has failed to come up with any recommendations and its board instead has voted to urge an extension of the moratorium – scheduled to expire in May – for another year while more studies are made.
"I would hope that you would consider letting TACIR do its work and we would consider ... getting the right answer for everyone," Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, told during debate.
Carter said he wants the study to continue, focusing on revising rules for establishing "growth boundaries" for each city in the state, but has decided to pursue his bill now.
"No study in the world is going to change the right to vote," he said. "This (bill) is not stopping annexation. It's stopping forced annexation."
No member of the House Local Government Subcommittee spoke against the bill, though Parkinson and some others voiced misgivings.
It was approved on voice vote and sent on the full House Local Government Committee. Parkinson was the only member of the panel asking to be recorded as voting against the measure.
Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, said that in his hometown the city has "given out services to people outside the city" and he would like see TACIR look into a fair way of dealing with such situations. On occasions, Carr said, people living on one side of a street that serves as a boundary may be treated differently than those on another.
As a former city councilman, Carr said he can understand cities' viewpoint, but he also understands views of constituents supporting the right to vote.
"I am between rock and a hard place," Carr said.
The Tennessee Municipal League, which represents city governments statewide, opposes the bill in a belief that resolving disputes over annexation should be part of a broader approach that can balance matters in a "complex issue," said TML Deputy Director Chad Jenkins after the vote.
Current law allows annexation simply by a city council adopting an ordinance. Carter's bill ends that practice unless a property owner asks to be annexed.
The bill calls for an annexation referendum to include voting by all residents of an area to be annexed, along with owners of property within the area even if they live elsewhere.
The measure has 70 representatives signed on as co-sponsors in the House. In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson.