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VOL. 41 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 05, 2017

Senate punts on Nashville-only short-term rentals bill

By Sam Stockard

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A day after the House targeted Nashville with a tough bill on short-term rentals, the Senate deferred action on legislation blocking the Metro Council from enacting any prohibitions.

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee postponed a bill by Sen. John Stevens until January 2018, ending the debate this year on a measure singling out Davidson County efforts to restrict short-term rentals such as Airbnb.

“The bill was always about Nashville because the platforms, the utilization of the platforms (short-term rental), is substantially the largest in Nashville,” said Stevens, a Huntingdon Republican. “So even on a statewide regulation, you have to deal with the issue in Nashville. And we just couldn’t get there.”

Despite the postponement, Stevens said he was glad to hear from two Davidson County senators who said the legislation could re-emerge with “repercussion” in 2018 if the Metro City Council tries to get too restrictive. The council is considering legislation to phase out non-owner-occupied short-term rental units over the next two years, though the ordinance is far from being well-defined.

Sen. Steve Dickerson, who represents much of Davidson County, called the deferral “a good compromise” but said legislation could be revived next year.

“It gives the local governing authorities a chance to come up with what I hope is sort of an even-handed and thoughtful regulatory framework,” Dickerson said.

The Nashville Republican said the proposal by Metro City Councilman Larry Hagar is not a prohibition, and he pointed out several amendments have been filed on the measure already, meaning it’s a long way from taking form. With that in mind, Dickerson said the “scenario is very fertile” for talks between the state, local government and private entities for come up with “well-structured” regulations.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville Democrat who opposed the legislation, said targeting Nashville would have been unconstitutional.

“Putting this off until next year when we might have a plan that could apply on a statewide basis was the right thing to do,” Yarbro said, noting the Legislature is getting involved in local issues too often.

The legislation, which was amended to affect Nashville only, had lost its teeth in the House committee system until the last couple of days of work in the General Assembly.

Rep. Cameron Sexton, a Crossville Republican, and Rep. Tim Wirgau, a Buchanan Republican from West Tennessee, brought an effort to stop Nashville from restricting short-term rentals after seeing news reports on the Metro City Council proposal.

The measure passed 53-35 Monday night after often-heated debate from Davidson County legislators who noted it would affect Nashville but not the cities that remain in Davidson County and none of the surrounding cities such as Brentwood, which restricts short-term rental.

Wirgau pointed out Nashville’s short-term rental business generates $66 million. “You want to rip it out from underneath them?” he asked Davidson County lawmakers.

But Rep. Bill Beck, a Nashville Democrat, contended the state’s Capitol City is being targeted unfairly.

“We’re becoming the City Council of Davidson County as a state Legislature,” Beck said. “If this is good for one, why is it not good for all? We collect one out of three tax dollars for this whole state.”

Beck and several others argued that short-term rentals are disrupting the city as groups rent them and hold wild parties that cause health, noise and safety problems, requiring the police to spend too much time breaking them up.

Sexton, meanwhile, called it a “revenue” bill, one setting up a method for collecting taxes from these types of businesses. The measure would allow Metro City Council to restrict, “they just can’t prohibit,” Sexton said.

He pointed out the city could revoke some operators’ permits if they are violating city ordinances dealing with factors such as noise and litter.

But Rep. Bo Mitchell said the legislation would apply only to Nashville, not cities such as Forest Hills and Belle Meade.

“Are we trying to protect the more affluent?” he said.

As the House considered a slate of amendments to the bill Monday night, Sexton continued to claim the bill wasn’t targeting Davidson County but, instead, protecting the “rights of property owners.”

However, Nashville Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons said the bill was more about allowing corporations and wealthy investors to buy houses and turn them into short-term rental properties that break up neighborhoods.

“These are affecting real people every day in my district,” Clemmons said.

Until someone answers complaint calls in the middle of the night about short-term rentals they didn’t have any business trying to pass this legislation, he said.

“This is not a property rights issue. This is a quality of life issue. And my constituents’ quality of life if deteriorating,” Clemmons said.

With Memphis and Tennessee’s other big cities removed from the bill, Democratic Rep. Antonio Parkinson was the only Shelby County lawmaker to address the bill Monday night.

“This sounds like bigger government to me. We don’t want bigger government. Don’t get played by these lobbyists, because the bill should be lobbied at the local level,” Parkinson said.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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