Lawmakers Consider Bills on Bikes, Historical Markers, and Skunks 

Bike lane funding could be cut and Tennesseans could own skunks if lawmakers get their way.

Tennessee's rule factory is cranking at full tilt, and Nashville lawmakers want to tell Memphians how to pay for bike lanes, what monuments we can move, and whether or not we can own skunks (seriously).

• No gas tax for bike lanes

A new bill would prohibit spending any gas tax revenues on bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, and "other non-vehicular facilities."

Portions of the state gas tax are required to go to cities and counties. Those governments sometimes use the gas tax funds for matching dollars to get federal money for bike and pedestrian projects. The new bill says all of the money would have to be used for "highways, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure for public vehicular use."

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, both from the Chattanooga area.

Carter told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he simply wanted more transparency on gas tax spending if the state is on the cusp of raising the tax. Bike Walk Tennessee executive director Matt Farr told the paper that the backlash against the bill has been the largest mobilization of bicycle advocacy in state history.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation said the bill would likely violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and could jeopardize more than $1.7 billion for the state over the next two years from the Federal Highway Adminstration.

• No removal of military

history markers

Last week, the House voted 71-23 for a bill that would prohibit the removal of any historical markers that honor military conflicts.

Three years ago, state lawmakers rushed to pass the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013 to stymie the Memphis City Council from re-naming several parks that were named in honor of the Confederacy. The council changed the names anyway.

The lawmaker behind that rule was Rep. Steve McDaniel, a West Tennesseean who lists "Southern historic preservation" as a personal interest on his legislature homepage. McDaniel now sponsors the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016, which completely replaces the 2013 law.

The bill says "no statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, or plaque" erected to honor a military conflict located on public property, may be "relocated, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed..."

Only the Tennessee Historical Commission can approve the removal of such markers, and the bill would lay out a new, more open process for those votes.

To Nashville lawmakers, the bill would help forecast the future of a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Tennessee State Capitol building. In Memphis, the bill could help direct the next moves on a plan to, perhaps, remove the statue of Forrest from Health Sciences Park.

Mayor Jim Strickland's plans for the statue are not yet known, and a spokesman in his office said the mayor had no comment on the new bill. However, Strickland voted to remove the statue in August as a member of the council.

  • Lynn Bystrom |

• Skunk ownership

If Sen. Paul Bailey has his way, you can soon legally own a skunk in Tennessee.

Skunk ownership is now a Class C misdemeanor here, but Bailey's bill would remove that offense.

Bailey told members of the Senate's Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee that 17 other states allow skunk ownership, including bordering states of Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia.

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