Tennessee bill would halt annexations statewide until 2015

photo The Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.
Arkansas-Tennessee Live Blog

NASHVILLE - Faced with total defeat of the measure, two Hamilton County legislators Tuesday agreed to amend their anti-annexation bill with the measure now imposing a statewide moratorium on all annexations until June 30, 2015.

That's intended to give provide a "time out" while officials do a comprehensive study of the issue.

Senate State and Local Government Committee members unanimously approved the compromise, which would halt all current annexation efforts by ordinance as of April 1. It now goes to the Calendar Committee where it will be scheduled for the Senate floor.

Senate sponsor Bo Watson, R-Hixson, later acknowledged, "I don't have the votes to get this for cities will be studied by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The moratorium was put into the bill out of concerns cities were jumping in to annex territory now out of fears lawmakers would soon make it next to impossible except in cases of where property owners ask to be annexed.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill:

• Senate primaries - A bill putting the selection of U.S. Senate primary nominees into the hands of the 132 members of the Tennessee General Assembly appears dead for the year.

Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, today requested the controversial bill be moved to 2014. But at a request from House State Committee Chairman Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, it was simply taken off notice, meaning it could be brought back.

Earlier in the day, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters he had a "major problem" with the bill, which sought to strip the power of nominating U.S. Senate candidates from hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans.

Haslam said he would "very strongly" consider vetoing the bill.

The brainchild of Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, the bill ran into trouble Monday night on the Senate floor. Niceley says the bill is intended to restore a better relationship between states and the federal government intended by the nation's founding fathers.

• Whiskey barrels - A bill that among other things would allow Chattanooga to permit whiskey distilleries rolled through the House Finance Committee right over the objections of Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga.

"This bill has been cunningly prepared," Floyd, a nondrinker, told the panel. "There's a lot of no see 'ums. The devil's in the details."

Floyd charged the bill, which has statewide application, goes far beyond its original intent and would allow distilleries to locate in unincorporated areas of Hamilton and other counties as long as at least one jurisdiction has approved both liquor by the drink and retail package store sales.

He then attacked the measure, saying distilleries could sell whiskey on Sundays.

That's the "one I'm most concerned with," Floyd said. "I pray you will be."

Whiskey distilleries will be able to sell their products "seven days a week, 12 to 7 p.m. on Sunday," Floyd added, before asking colleagues "if you want to go back to your districts and explain why your distiller is selling seven days a week."

He also said distilleries can be sited next door to churches and schools in any jurisdiction unless it already has distance requirements for the sale, storage or manufacture of beer.

• Water trade - Georgia officials say they want access to Tennessee River water. Badly want it. Desperately want it.

So just how far would Peach State lawmakers be willing to go if it came down to a trade?

Haslam jokingly laid out a possible deal before the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.

"We'll take the Atlanta Braves and they can have the water."

Or maybe Sea Island, the governor suggested.

But before Georgians get too excited, the governor emphasized "we're not actually going to trade them for our water."

Water-parched Georgia lawmakers this year once have again raised the long-disputed Tennessee-Georgia border question as they seek ways to satisfy the exploding Atlanta metro area's need for water.

• Seat belts - A bill quintupling the fine for not wearing a seat belt from $10 to $50 passed a Senate Committee only to crash in a House panel just two hours later.

Proponents said the higher fines would spur motorists to buckle up, producing benefits in terms of highway deaths and injuries.

Tennesseans seat belt us dipped from 87 percent to 83 percent last year, Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said.

But some lawmakers contended the bill was more about money than safety.

• Gun records - A proposal to seal Tennessee's handgun carry permit records from public scrutiny is headed for a full Senate vote.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and is headed for a vote by the full Senate. The companion bill was approved 84-10 in the House last month.

The bill blocking access to the entire database of handgun carry permit holders no longer includes loopholes for political or lobbying groups that was included in a previous version of the measure.

• School vouchers - Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said Tuesday that lawmakers will either have to approve Gov. Bill Haslam's approach to a school voucher program in Tennessee or face the measure being withdrawn for the year.

Norris, R-Collierville, who is sponsoring the bill for the Haslam administration, told reporters that he doesn't see much room for negotiation over the measure seeking to supply a limited number of parents of children in the state's worst-performing schools with public money to pay for a private education.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.