Mar 3, 2022 - Politics

State bill seeks to change Metro charter amendment process

Photo: Mike Clark/The Tennessean/USA Today Network

After two years of expensive legal fights over proposals to change the Metro charter, lawmakers are advancing state legislation that would make it much harder to propose such ballot measures.

Why it matters: Every other county in the state requires petition signatures from 15% of registered voters in order to propose a charter amendment, while Metro's charter requires signatures from at least 10% of the total of voters in the previous countywide election.

  • Two charter amendment proposals seeking to roll back the city's 2020 property tax increase resulted in expensive lawsuits. One of those legal challenges, which would have effectively overhauled how the city government operates, pitted the Davidson County Election Commission against Metro.
  • For comparison, the Election Commission certified 12,369 signatures for the most recent anti-tax proposal. If the law passed, it would require 72,134 signatures (15% of 480,894 registered voters) to put a measure on the ballot.

What's next: The legislation has already been approved by the House and is on track to be considered in a Senate committee as soon as next week.

  • The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce backs the bill, which has bipartisan support and is sponsored by Davidson County Democratic lawmakers Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. Darren Jernigan.

What they're saying: Jernigan tells Axios the goal is to put Davidson County on the same playing field as every other county in the state. He hopes the legislation helps avoid complicated legal challenges, including disputes over petition signatures.

  • "If we get to a point where you're going to recall a mayor, or recall a council member or challenge every issue you don't like with a referendum, and the threshold is so low, you're going to have a difficult time finding people to run for office," Jernigan says.

The big picture: In addition to the state law, some city leaders have considered amending the charter to clarify the petition process.

  • The Metro charter review committee met this week and heard proposals from Councilmembers Bob Mendes and Dave Rosenberg to fix the section that governs petition-driven ballot measures.
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