State Bill Could Tell Local Governments Who to Hire 

State lawmakers consider bill that would discourage local preference for city contract hires.

State lawmakers want to tell local governments who they have to consider for construction jobs, and three members of the Memphis City Council are fighting back.

In August, 58 percent of Nashville voters elected to change that city's charter to say that 40 percent of the hours done on construction jobs contracted by the city government must be done by residents of Metro Nashville, which includes all of Davidson County.

The local-hire amendment was proposed to create jobs for Davidson County residents on taxpayer-funded projects. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry is readying a workforce training program to help residents there get prepared for those jobs.

But last week, state Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) proposed a bill to nullify Nashville's charter amendment saying it discriminates against certain companies and pits counties against each other.

"There is opposition to my bill that says we are overturning the will of the voters in Nashville, and, in fact, we are overturning the wishes of the voters in Nashville," Johnson said during the Senate's Commerce and Labor committee last week. "I would submit to you that there are thousands and thousands of people living in my district and other areas around Nashville, and they didn't have an opportunity to vote on whether or not they would be allowed to work on jobs that are contracted by Metro Nashville."

Nashville's local-hire amendment is against state law, according to an opinion issued by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slattery III. Once contractors are licensed by the state, he said, no municipality can put additional requirements upon them.

If passed, Johnson's bill would allow any company to bid on municipal construction jobs, but local governments would still have the right to score those bids and approve those bids however they like.

Still, Memphis City Council members Berlin Boyd, Edmund Ford, Jr., and Martavius Jones see the bill as a state imposition on a local government's control of its business. The three council members urged the defeat of the bill, which they say would undermine a local government's right to boost jobs within its own borders.

The three filed a resolution that was scheduled to be reviewed by the full council Tuesday.  The resolution said the city of Memphis and other municipalities have a "compelling interest" in developing business and workforces within their boundaries, citing the recent Shelby County study that found only about 41 percent of county contracts were awarded to county businesses.

Memphis already has a local preference ordinance on the books. Since 2005, local businesses have been favored by law in most city contracts. However, that mandate is not as strong as the local-hire amendment passed in Nashville last year.

"The local preference ordinance has been absolutely necessary, and we need it to continue to tackle issues such as poverty and job creation," said Ford, the council's vice-chairman.

Further, Memphis has a home rule charter, Ford reminded, meaning citizens can amend the city charter with a vote, and that he doesn't want to see any bill that would erode that status.

But for Boyd, Ford, and Jones, the House and Senate bills hit at the deeper issue of more state control of city business.

"[The bills] sets troubling precedent in undermining local governments' compelling interests in this arena," the resolution says.

If passed, the Memphis resolution would be sent to state Senate and House leaders, and Governor Bill Haslam before state lawmakers were slated to vote on the bills Wednesday.

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