Republican lawmakers pass six bills targeting Nashville during the 2023 legislative session
The Tennessee General Assembly took control of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority from the city in 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Republicans lawmakers made good on threats of retribution after the Metro Nashville Council blocked the 2024 Republican National Convention last summer.
During this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers passed legislation to cut the Metro Nashville Council in half; take over seats on the city’s sports and airport authorities; eliminate Nashville’s police oversight board; change the votes necessary for renovations at the speedway; and restrict tax revenue collected around the Music City Center.
The legislature also attempted — but ultimately backed out of — a bill to remove Metro oversight of Nashville’s Lower Broadway bar-heavy tourist district.
The Metro Nashville Legal Department is expected to file several lawsuits against the state to stop the implementation of several of the laws, as it did over the Metro Council cut.
The council reduction was the only one of the bills to pass before the final days of session, giving Metro Nashville time to file suit and allowing for a ruling by a three-judge panel that blocked implementation of the law until at least the 2027 Metro Nashville Council election.
Metro Nashville stopped the action by arguing the state interfered in its right to self-governance established by the Tennessee home rule, which prevents lawmakers from passing legislation targeting a city without permission.
A similar legal argument could be made when challenging the other bills, but the Tennessee Supreme Court established some exceptions to the home rule when it allowed a 2019 school voucher plan targeting Nashville and Memphis.
All the bills come less than a year after the Democratic-leaning Metro Council declined to pass a $50 million federal grant critical for the Republican National Committee to hold its 2024 Presidential Convention in Nashville.
Republican leaders warned behind the scenes that the Metro Council would face stiff retaliation if it refused the money. The council remained undeterred, declining the money, creating an open season on bills targeting Nashville.
Republican lawmakers eliminate police oversight boards
Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville can no longer have police oversight boards, citizen bodies that are tasked with investigating allegations of police misconduct.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Rep. Elaine Davis, R-Knoxville, allows cities to set up a community advisory panel with a two-thirds majority approval by the local governing body on two separate occasions. The new panel would consist of mayoral appointees who would be uncompensated.
Police unions and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have tried for several years to eliminate police oversight boards, which operate independently of the police.
Nashville created its police oversight board as part of a citywide referendum in 2018 with voters approving the measure by an 18% margin in favor, while Knoxville’s Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC) is the state’s oldest such board, having been created in 1998.
State lawmakers, governor now get to appoint six of eights seats on board overseeing Nashville airport
State Republicans pushed for majority control of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, arguing that the state provides more funding to it than the city.
Lawmakers also appeared to have the support of airport CEO Doug Kruelen in their takeover bid.
The Federal Aviation Administration raised concerns about the move in a March letter to Kreulen, who disagreed with the agency. Both Metro Legal Director Wally Dietz and Democratic lawmakers expressed wariness, warning any takeover could result in losing Federal Aviation Administration funding for all the state’s airports, especially if there is a lawsuit between the city and state over the board’s control.
State lawmakers, governor now get to appoint 6 of 13 seats on authority overseeing stadium
State Republicans argued they deserve seats on Nashville’s sports authority after agreeing to contribute $500 million to the new Tennessee Titans stadium, although Meetro Nashville is putting up $760 million for the project.
The sports authority oversees all of Nashville’s publicly funded sports stadiums, including the Nashville Predators and Nashville SC stadiums.
Metro Council will take a final vote on approval of the new Titans stadium on Tuesday night.
Fairground speedway renovations will only require 21 votes from the council after the state supersedes a 2011 Nashville referendum
Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, led the passage of this amendment on behalf of Speedway Motorsports, which owns a racetrack in his hometown.
The legislation reverses a referendum by Nashville citizens that required a two-thirds majority on the Metro Council to approve any changes to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Now, only a council majority is needed.
Speedway Motorsports and the Nashville mayor’s office are working on a deal to remodel the current track, with a $34 million subsidy from state and city lawmakers.
It’s unclear how much support the deal has from the Metro Council, but with a lower vote threshold, the deal’s chances of passing increase.
Lawmakers restrict how Music City Center funds spending, cutting off potential general funds revenue
Nashville’s tourist development zone often generates more money than needed to pay off the bonds for the construction of the Music City Convention Center, leading Nashville’s government to negotiate a deal with the convention center to use those excess funds on other projects around Lower Broadway.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and Davis, prohibits the city from using excess proceeds for other uses outside debt service.
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