NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Now that Nashville’s old airport authority board is in power again, what happens now?
“I think it moves forward full throttle ahead,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said. “There’s nothing that’s going to plateau the progress of this region if we all, as legislators, work together to address the hurdles that are in place.”
Earlier this year, the state pushed legislation to take over the majority of seats on the board. But a three-judge panel ruled the law to be unconstitutional on the basis that it only affects Davidson County. The move came after questions over zoning and construction rights issues flared this week, though they had little bearing in the ruling.
“Well, obviously, I was disappointed in the ruling. I believed in that legislation, I still believe in that legislation,” Rep. Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville). “I still think it’s important for all Tennessee taxpayers to make sure their money is spent well, that it’s spent transparently and that they have a say so.”
Garrett sponsored the law when it was a bill in the House.
One of the key takeaways from the three-judge panel ruling was a line that read, ‘Metro was singled out.’
With that in mind, the question now becomes whether we see legislation affecting other airports moving forward.
“I think that’s a real possibility. But airport authorities are created by statute and some of them may be created a little bit differently,” Garrett said. “We would have to look at different pieces of legislation that might affect it as a whole.”
News 2 also reached out to Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), the sponsor of the bill in the Senate. He provided a statement which reads in full:
“The legislation passed this year relative to airport authorities in Tennessee was the first legislation of its kind, but it won’t be the last. As with a lot of novel legislation, there is room for improvement.
I am working on a similar bill with a broader application to ensure other major airports in the state of Tennessee are encompassed. These airports have regional impacts on our state and are receiving tens of millions of dollars from Tennessee taxpayers. To ensure proper accountability in these airport authorities, state officials need a seat at the table.”
The move has Garrett on board.
“Oh, I’d sponsor it. I believe I’ve said that when this particular piece of legislation came through. I know Senator Bailey, as well, said that we would certainly look at that,” he said. “So, I would certainly be open to looking at that language, working with our legal team here and figuring out the best way forward, regardless of what happens with the current bill that is waiting to be appealed or may be appealed.”
With Bailey and Garrett moving pieces into place for future legislation, Democrats are certain to punch back.
“It’s really on my colleagues across the aisle,” Clemmons said. “They’ve gotta decide whether or not we’re going to have adult conversations and whether or not we’re really going to focus on the issues that matter. I don’t have control over that.”
In the three-judge panel’s ruling, they used Garrett and Bailey’s own arguments against them, writing that the pair clearly said the law only affects Davidson County, which is unconstitutional because of a concept called ‘Home Rule.’
“What some legislator, whether they’re an attorney or not, says to try to get a bill passed is always fair for the public record,” Clemmons said.
Though Garrett, an attorney, brushed the argument off, saying oftentimes in law, judges have different opinions.
“If you have a paragraph or sentence and you put it in 10 lawyers’ hands, you’re going to have 10 different opinions,” Garrett said.
The Attorney General’s office said it is reviewing legislation on the matter. It’s widely expected to appeal the three-judge panel’s ruling.
News 2 also reached out to the Nashville Airport for comment. A spokesperson provided a statement that reads in full:
“Since 1970, the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority has effectively served the travel needs of Middle Tennessee and surrounding counties through Nashville International Airport® and John C. Tune Airport®.
We are respectful of the court’s decision on MNAA’s Board of Commissioners and look forward to working with each member immediately, including the next scheduled committee meetings on November 8. As one of the fastest growing airports in the country, BNA® remains committed to serving the Middle Tennessee region through best-in-class facilities, air service and customer experience.”
News 2 also reached out to Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) for comment, the only representative or senator on the state-appointed board.
“Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson is not commenting on the airport authority lawsuit as it makes its way through the court system.”