A bill moving forward in the Tennessee General Assembly would disenfranchise Knoxville voters in the selection of district representatives on city council. To address this unprecedented attempt to remove voting rights from Knoxville voters, Knoxville City Council has called a special meeting on Wednesday, March 22nd at 6PM in the small assembly room of the City County building. Council will consider a resolution opposing SB 526 and reaffirming Knoxville’s position as a home rule municipality.

SB 526 could be heard by the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee between now and early April. If passed and signed into law, the bill would limit Knoxville city voters to voting only for their district representative, rather than our current system which empowers all city voters to participate in each district’s city-wide general election.

In my previous blog, I outlined the impact this change would have in singling out the 5th Council District, whose voters would only vote in city elections once every four years, as well as how it would eliminate the important inter-district relationships each council member has city-wide, decrease voter turnout, and dramatically limit citizen engagement.

Today, I want to explore another reason why this bill should be opposed, commonly referred to as the “Home Rule” amendment found in Article 11, Section 9 of the Tennessee State Constitution. The “Home Rule” amendment transfers the General Assembly’s power to enact legislation affecting a city to the city’s qualified voters and its city government. In part, the amendment states, “any municipality after adopting home rule may continue to operate under its existing charter, or amend the same, or adopt and thereafter amend a new charter to provide for its governmental and proprietary powers, duties and functions, and for the form, structure, personnel and organization of its government…” The effect of this adoption means that a city is guaranteed the right to have local control over matters of local concern including the form and structure of local government and its operation and functioning if the voters adopt “Home Rule.”

In 1954, the voters of Knoxville overwhelmingly approved “Home Rule” by city-wide referendum. Support for “Home Rule” was secured by a vote of 8,079 to 1,679. Article 11, Section 9 of the Tennessee State Constitution further states, “In the event of an affirmative vote by a majority of the qualified voters voting thereon, and until the repeal thereof by the same procedure, such municipality shall be a home rule municipality, and the General Assembly shall act with respect to such home rule municipality only by laws which are general in terms and effect.”

SB 526 is not the first time that Knoxville’s City Council has requested that the General Assembly “act with respect” to home rule. In 1989, Knoxville City Council passed a resolution requesting that members of the Knox County Delegation be “vigilant in (1) thwarting legislation which would undermine or circumvent the provisions of Home Rule and (2) supporting legislation which supports the provisions of Home Rule.”

With the overwhelming support of Council in calling a special meeting on this topic, I am urging all of Knoxville to join us on March 22nd and voice your opposition of SB 526.  This unwarranted and extraordinary attempt to undermine and circumvent the will of the people must be stopped.

3 thoughts on “Bill Advancing in General Assembly Would Limit Knoxville Voter Rights

  1. Thank you for continuing to work on this important issue and for providing the background and history. Our present system of electing district council members makes all members of city council accountable to all citizens of Knoxville. The citizens can amend their city charter if they don’t like the present voting method.


  2. the former Second District City Councilman, and member of. Charter Revision Commission prior to vote in late 1990's says:

    Thank you, Andrew, for your support of the will of the people of the City of Knoxville attested to numerous times over these many years. It is unthinkable that “outsiders” would interfere with the will of our people. As a former two-term City Councilman I can attest to the fact that this provision weighed heavily on the manner I felt obligated to support not only my elected District, but to act in the interest of all the citizens of Knoxville.
    The decision to be a Home Rule City has been debated thoroughly many times over the years, and IS the will of the people. This action of the Legislature must not be imposed on our City.

    Barbara B Pelot


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