(NASHVILLE) - Legislation that addressed Tennesseans' right to vote on various issues faced a mixed reaction this week on Capitol Hill. Such legislation included bills to prohibit forced annexation, as well as a resolution, sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, to allow the citizens of Tennessee the right to elect the state's Attorney General.
Legislation Advances to Allow Citizens the Right to Vote Against Forced Annexation
A Senate committee approved legislation that eliminates forced annexation, which has been the primary form used by municipalities to increase their boundaries over the last several decades in Tennessee. Senate Bill 869 requires a referendum of residents within the area to be annexed by a municipal ordinance prior to annexation; while Senate Bill 2464 accomplishes a referendum process by repealing annexation by ordinance completely. In addition, committee members approved Senate Bill 2472 to continue the moratorium on annexation passed by the General Assembly last year until May 15, 2015. TACIR has already released an Interim Report on Annexation which examines Tennessee's annexation laws and compares and contrasts how similar issues are handled in other states.
Legislation to Allow Citizens the Right to Elect the State's Top Lawyer Fails to Pass the State Senate
The State Senate, for the second time, failed to adopt SJR 123, which would have allowed the citizens the opportunity to elect the state's Attorney General. The resolution, which has been championed by former Senate Judiciary Chairman and judicial reform advocate, Sen. Mae Beavers, would have permitted the election of the state's top lawyer by the people he or she represents, as opposed to being appointed by the Supreme Court - the very body that the Attorney General must appear before on a regular basis.
"The obvious conflict-of-interest that exists in our current system now leaves the state's chief lawyer twice-removed from the very people he or she is supposed to represent," said Sen. Beavers. "Allowing the Governor to appoint the Supreme Court, who then appoints the Attorney General, leaves the Attorney General unaccountable to the people of Tennessee."
Some senators excused their vote against the resolution by stating that the legislature, and not the people, should select the Attorney General. Yet, one of the primary duties of the Attorney General is to deliver opinions regarding the constitutionality of various pieces of legislation proposed by that same legislature. Therefore, if such a method was in place, some believe that an even more egregious conflict-of-interest would exist.
"The only way to ensure that we have an impartial and accountable top lawyer is to make him or her responsive to the people he or she is supposed to primarily represent - the people of Tennessee," said Sen. Beavers.
Issues in Brief
Meth / Penalties - Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted this week to strengthen penalties for those who manufacture methamphetamine. Senate Bill 2021, sponsored by Sen. Beavers, provides for a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of meth of 30 days in jail and 180 days in jail for manufacturing of meth.
College Savings - Legislation which incentivizes college savings has met the final approval of the State Senate. The state's TNStars College Savings 529 Program offers parents and other relatives with a low-cost way to save for children's college expenses with attractive investment options and special tax advantages. However, current law does not specifically provide that the board may establish multiple plans. Senate Bill 2106 allows the State Treasurer to establish more than one 529 college savings plan, including an advisor-sold plan.
Banning Abuse of Welfare Benefits - Legislation to curb abuse of purchases made through Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) cards used by recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee this week. Last year the Legislature passed Public Chapter 312 which prohibits use of a welfare recipient's EBT card in liquor stores, adult cabarets, casinos and other gambling facilities.