Tennessee lawmakers hope to make this the last week of legislative session for 2017

Tennessee lawmakers hope to make this the last week of legislative session for 2017

May 8th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Politics State

The Tennessee State Capitol (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

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NASHVILLE — Like exhausted boxers nearing the end of a 15-round bout, Tennessee lawmakers return to the state Capitol today in hopes of making this the last week of the legislative session for 2017.

Senators plan to take final action this afternoon on the state's $37.1 billion spending plan for fiscal 2017-18. It's the 33 senators' and 99 representatives' only mandated duty under the Tennessee Constitution.

After a House budget blowup was resolved Friday, the budget and three associated bills are expected to pass the upper chamber.

But there are plenty of other outstanding issues left to fuss and fight over in the annual headlong rush to wrap up work for the year. That could happen either Tuesday or Wednesday, although nothing is certain until the final gavel falls.

The House Finance Subcommittee this afternoon is looking at a 114-item calendar of bills that are "behind the budget," meaning they couldn't be considered until the budget bill moved out of the panel.

Except for last-minute additions to the budget under various deals, most are expected to die.

Senate Finance Committee members have a number of bills up as well, but the calender wasn't posted on the General Assembly's website Sunday afternoon.

Bills scheduled for House or Senate floor or committee action this week include any number of final mini-dramas. They include:

* Short-term vacation rentals: Two rural Republican lawmakers are working to ensure Tennessee's four largest cities, including Chattanooga, can't stop owners from renting out houses or condos via online companies like Airbnb and HomeAway.

The original bill, which critics complained sought to bigfoot local governments' ability to regulate or ban the activity, was in trouble.

But then the Metro Nashville Council began considering plans to phase out rental units in residential zones unless they were actually occupied by owners. Some owners have multiple houses they've turned into short-term rentals.

The Metro Council's measure, which was delayed until state legislators split town, suddenly gave new life to efforts by the state bill's sponsors, Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, and Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville.

They scaled back the original measure to impose a two-year moratorium on the Big Four.

It's scheduled today for House floor action and expected to be up in the Senate Finance Committee as well.

The Chattanooga City Council has considered a number of approaches to regulate and restrict the burgeoning industry. Proponents argue they have a right to make money on their homes. But opponents question the impact on their property rights and home values when one or more mini-hotels abruptly pop up next door or down the street.

Chattanooga council members last month delayed acting on a proposed ordinance that sets up a short-term vacation rental district using the Chattanooga Urban Overlay Zone as a baseline.

The idea is to prohibit rental operations outside the district except where property owners have already zoned their properties as Residential 3 or 4, which allows for apartments and offices. It the only legal way currently to do short-term vacation rental business in Chattanooga.

* Sales tax rule on internet companies: Representatives this afternoon are expected to take up an "omnibus" rules bill that includes a Haslam administration provision requiring out-of-state catalog and internet sellers with no physical presence in Tennessee to begin collecting state and local sales taxes.

The state Revenue Department rule is already being challenged in court by two catalogue and internet retailer associations. It's part of an effort by states to push the remote-sales issue, last visited by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992, back into courts and eventually force the nation's highest court to revisit the issue.

It's unclear if opponents of the legislation would seek to strip the Revenue Department from the rule. No amendments were listed Sunday on the legislative website. The omnibus bill is in the Senate Calendar Committee and could be moved to the floor at any time.

The bill applies to operations with more than $500,000 in annual sales to Tennesseans.

* Robot-operated vehicles on roads: Senators could take final action as early as today on House changes to a bill allowing autonomous or self-driving cars and trucks on Tennessee roads.

For the time being, an actual person will have to be behind the wheel as a backup in case of problems.

General Motors strongly pushed the legislation, which critics initially charged was intended to benefit the Detroit manufacturer that operates a Tennessee plant in Spring Hill.

Differences with insurers and trial lawyers, not to mention Volkswagen, Nissan and other major auto manufacturers, have been resolved.

* Municipal de-annexation: Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, is expected to push his bill setting up a process to let neighborhoods annexed by ordinance after 1999 push for a referendum vote to secede from a municipality, according to Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, the bill's House sponsor.

Watson and Carter have fought for the change for several years. It's a followup to their landmark 2014 bill that upended decades of Tennessee annexation law by eliminating towns' and cities' ability to annex by ordinance. Now property owners' consent is required.

An amendment may make the Senate de-annexation bill somewhat more palatable to cities. It would allow voters citywide, rather than only residents of annexed communities, to cast ballots in the referendum.

Carter, who passed the bill in the 109th General Assembly, hasn't moved his bill this year. He said depending on the Senate's action, he expects to in 2018.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on twitter @AndySher1.