Democrat-sponsored legislation that would make it markedly more difficult for Metro Nashville citizens to amend the Metro charter is set to be considered by a key state Senate committee.
The measure increases petitions signature requirements to trigger Metropolitan charter amendment ballot referendums in Davidson County. The Metro Charter currently allows citizens to propose charter amendments by ballot initiative for public referendum. The required number of petitions signatures has historically been 10 percent of the voters for the previous general election.
SB2544, which is scheduled to be considered by the Tennessee Senate State and Local Government Committee, deletes exemptions to the requirements for recall, referendum, or initiative in Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 2 that allow Metro Nashville’s charter to govern the process. Deleting the exemption would eliminate the charter’s role setting the signature requirements.
Sec. 19.01. of the Metro Charter says in part:
An amendment or amendments may be proposed (1) by the adoption of a resolution by the council favoring the same and submitting it or them to the people for approval. The affirmative vote for adoption of such resolution in the council shall be not less than two-thirds of the membership to which the council is entitled, and such resolution when adopted need not be submitted to the mayor for his or her approval; or (2) upon petition filed with the metropolitan clerk, signed by ten (10) per cent of the number of the registered voters of Nashville-Davidson County voting in the preceding general election, the verification of the signatures to be made by the Davidson County Election Commission and certified to the metropolitan clerk.
SB2544 is sponsored by State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville). If enacted into law, the legislation would change the minimum ballot petitions signature requirement from 10 percent of previous general election voters to a 15-percent minimum signature requirement of total registered voters in Davidson County. Nearly 500,000 people are registered to vote in Davidson County.
In comparison, candidates for Tennessee Governor, state House, state Senate, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate are required to gather twenty-five valid signatures from registered voters.
Nashville attorney Jim Roberts, one of the architects of the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act referendum, says this legislation will destroy Davidson County voters’ rights to amend the Metropolitan charter forever. Roberts said in an email, “If this bill becomes law no citizens group will ever be able to propose a charter amendment again. The bill increases the signature requirement from 5,000-7,000 to over 72,000.” he said. “No group has ever been able to collect that many signatures in the history of Nashville.”
Roberts claimed that the Nashville Taxpayer Protect Act referendum signature drive was the most successful one in Metro Nashville history. “The only citizen-proposed charter amendment to gather more than 10,000 signatures was the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act. which collected an unprecedented 27,000 – still less than the one-third which would be needed if this bill passes.”
The House companion bill, HB2277, which is sponsored by Representative David B. Hawk (D-Greeneville), passed the state House unanimously on February 28. The vote was 91-0. The Senate received the House version on March 3. Representative Darren Jernigan (D-Old Hickory) is a prime co-sponsor.
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Aaron Gulbransen is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected] Follow Aaron on GETTR.
Photo “Jeff Yarbro” by Sen. Jeff Yarbro. Background Photo “Nashville Skyline” by Jacknstock. CC BY-SA 4.0.