Yesterday, like many of the past several days, was fast paced and fluid. As I noted in my post yesterday, the State Senate took up Sen. Norris’ bill on Tuesday, the State House Education Committee looked passed it yesterday. I haven’t had time to look at the video of that event, but will do so today, in hopes of having some clips this afternoon or tomorrow.
Fox 13 was in Nashville for both the Tuesday and Wednesday committee meetings and filed this report last night.
The questions featured above by Sen. Andy Berke are just a few of the comments he made at the meeting. The full exchange is near the end of this post.
One of the things I left out of my analysis yesterday of Norris’ bill was that the requirement for a countywide election is absent. In the Memphis City Council meeting that was called on 24 hour notice, that absence as well as ongoing talks between Memphis Mayor AC Wharton and Gov. Haslam was the rationale for delaying action on a resolution to surrender the MCS charter before the March 8th vote, effectively preempting any changes to current state law.
Councilman Shea Flinn, a long time supporter of the MCS board’s actions, reportedly urged against voting for the surrender resolution. From the CA article:
But by Thursday afternoon, councilman Shea Flinn was pleading with fellow council members to delay action, saying state Sen. Mark Norris had made a “huge concession” in allowing for a Memphis-only vote. Flinn said that if the council had accepted the charter surrender Thursday, it would have taken the issue out of voters’ hands.
“I think it would be premature to do what we feared Nashville would do, which is take away the right of Memphians to vote,” said Flinn. “Things seem to be moving in a positive direction as far as Memphians’ rights are concerned and that should be our top priority. We can not slap that hand away.”
In addition to Flinn’s concerns, Council attorney Alan Wad noted that passage of the resolution may not withstand legal scrutiny.
Based on all of this, there is more waiting ahead, though that wait may not be long. The Senate takes up Norris’ bill on Monday and could be brought to the floor of the House early next week as well. Chances are, the House will defer any action until the Senate bill is passed to ensure the two versions of the bill are identical.
Both the House and the Senate meet at 5pm on Monday at 5pm, meaning it is highly unlikely that the bill will pass both chambers that evening. We’ll see.
For now, it seems, the debate has shifted from the referendum, which was the original impetus for Norris’ bill, to the transition. In all honesty, the transition is the place where opponents have the most power to influence the outcome. Further, it is difficult for opponents to maintain they’re for a democratic process while attacking that very process through legal challenges to a referendum that has been spelled out in state law for some time. In short, the benefits outweigh the liabilities in attempting to change the process by which the transition is executed. Even if it seems like they’re changing the rules in the middle of the game, it seems like higher ground, even if it really isn’t.
As for negotiations between Gov. Haslam and Mayor Wharton, no one really knows what direction those negotiations are going in, nor do they know what power or influence the Gov. will be able to exert on the legislative process. Haslam’s more moderate public face will be put to the test, both by the negotiations and his work to talk the legislature down from their current position. It’s wrong to say they hold all the cards, because there is ample opportunity for a legal challenge of any law the legislature passes in reaction to a local action taken under previously understood rules and regulations clearly spelled out in state law.
If this isn’t changing the rules in the middle of the game, I don’t know what is.
As promised, here is video of the full exchange between State Sen. Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga) and State Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville)
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