Senate Judiciary Committee approves resolutions allowing voters to amend State Constitution as the pace quickens on Capitol Hill

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), February 7, 2019 – The pace quickened on Capitol Hill this week as lawmakers faced the deadline to file bills for the 2019 legislative session.  State senators also moved several important proposals through committees, including two resolutions to amend Tennessee’s Constitution which were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  One resolution would allow voters to change the way Tennessee’s Attorney General is selected, while the other lets them ban imposition of a statewide property tax. 

Tennessee levied a statewide property tax until 1949 after the legislature agreed to impose a two percent sales tax to provide funds for education in exchange.  This was in addition to any property taxes imposed by local governments in Tennessee. 

Although no statewide property tax has been imposed since that time, the state retains the ability to reenact the tax through legislation.  Most recently, it was an alternative option recommended by the 2004 Tennessee Tax Structure Study Commission, which was formed to provide lawmakers with tax guidance after a multi-year state income tax debate.

Senate Joint Resolution 3 starts the process to change the constitution to prohibit the Legislature from levying any state tax on property. 

The other resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 1, calls for an open nomination process by the Tennessee Supreme Court in selecting the State Attorney General, followed by a confirmation vote of the nominee by a majority of both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Sponsors maintain the legislation is intended to provide for a more transparent process in the selection of nominees and that the confirmation by the General Assembly will make the process more broad-based and accountable.  The bill keeps intact a role for the judiciary in the process.

Tennessee is the only state in which the State Supreme Court appoints the attorney general.  The votes taken by the court on nominees are not currently disclosed to the public.

The resolution would require the votes of the Tennessee Supreme Court justices to be held in open court, with recorded votes. Once the nomination is made, the legislature would have sixty days to go through the confirmation process. In the event that the candidate is rejected, then the court would have 60 days to make another nomination.

Before proceeding to a vote by the people, both resolutions must be approved by a simple majority of the 111th General Assembly during the 2019-2020 sessions and by a two-thirds majority of the 112th General Assembly which will convene in 2021-2022.  Once on the ballot, constitutional amendments must receive a plurality of votes cast in the gubernatorial election.

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