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Tennessee Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, addresses those gathered for a legislative forum at the Hamilton County Department of Education on Nov. 5, 2013.

Summer study — where no bill sponsor wants their proposed legislation to end up. That, however, is exactly where state Rep. Mike Carter and state Sen. Bo Watson's de-annexation efforts will be parked for the next few months.

For a couple weeks during the 2016 legislative session, it didn't look like that would be the case. The bill, which would have given Tennesseans in areas annexed by cities since 1998 the chance to vote for de-annexation, sailed through the House before fizzling in the Senate.

Once it stalled, Watson, the bill's senate champion, promised to bring it back up again. "This isn't an issue that goes away," he vowed.

The de-annexation crusade was the natural extension of Carter and Watson's successful 2014 annexation reform law. That legislation stripped Tennessee municipalities of the ability to annex areas by ordinance. In other words, cities and towns can no longer absorb new lands without the approval of the people living on them. Future annexation is still permitted, but only if affected residents OK it by way of "mutual consent" or a public vote.

As Carter told me via email, "This (2016) bill was an attempt to finish the work we started in the original (2014) annexation bill" by letting people whose voices were never heard in recent land grabs have a "one shot" chance to hold a referendum on the issue.

It only makes sense. You know, if you're one of those folks who admires the concept of democracy. Yet once the bill passed the House, it suffered death by a thousand proposed amendments — and special interests. And while much of the haggling in the legislature was over the scope of the bill's democratic parameters (who exactly gets the chance to vote?), the primary concern for cities was — you guessed it! — how much tax revenue they'd lose if residents bolted.

Indeed, if cities did lose taxpayers, the fiscal ramifications could be dire. So with the threat of thinned budgets looming, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke traveled to Nashville along with Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to lobby against de-annexation. Backed by the Municipal League, they sold visions of economic doom, in the case of Memphis a possible loss of $80 million annually.

Not long afterward, the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 5-3 to send the bill to summer study.

I asked Carter what he made of the whole ordeal. He said, "People talk about how hard it is to get things done in politics and it is, but it's even harder to get bad legislation undone. Vested interests fight with all of their strength to protect themselves, not the citizens."

That response brings to mind a point Watson made during Senate hearings. The Times Free Press' Andy Sher reported that Watson "asked whether everyone found it 'interesting' that all three mayors believe everyone eligible to de-annex will do so." His rhetorical point was that if cities have truly catered to the best interests of the citizens they unilaterally annexed, why would they worry about them voting to leave? Who's gotten the best end of the bargain?

According to Carter, the Senate already has a study scheduled to sift through all the aspects of de-annexation. Though he's in the House, he plans on attending all of the hearings related to those deliberations. Of course, there should be an asterisk next to that last sentence. Carter first has to win August's primary election against a foe who freely admits the matter is not a part of his platform.

Watson's Senate seat isn't up for re-election this year, but if his House counterpart doesn't return, de-annexation might be gone for longer than a summer break.

Contact David Allen Martin at david allenmartin423@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.

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