Early voting for Tennessee state and federal elections starts tomorrow. We do get letters, and today I received an email asking to explain the Amendments voters in Knoxville will be facing.
I have called the election commission and also inquired at my local voting place about the above and could not get any satisfaction. There was no one I could talk to at my local voting place so I asked the man in charge of passports if he could help me and he informed me that he was as baffled as I am. I read over the amendments but am still confused and if everyone who voted read these in the voting booth we would need a week to vote even if it was a poor turnout as it usually is in Knoxville. I think I need you, an average American woman to help me. Can you put these constitutional amendments in a nutshell - make them more concise;Dear reader, I will try.
One may view the ballot here. Contained within this ballot are: 1. two Amendments to the Tennessee Constitution. 2. Knox Countians will also decide 3 questions to the Knox County Charter (Charter Amendments), and pension plan for sheriffs.3. City of Knoxville residents will decide some issues on the city Pensions
The first amendment to the state constitution Tennesseans will decide is the marriage amendment.
TN already has a law stating that marriage is defined to be between a man and a woman. The idea behind enshrining this into the state constitution is so that the law cannot be challenged. Because the amendment is not limited to DEFINING marriage, but also about recognizing only a particular group of people, another particular group of people will lose civil rights. The question, is the amendment overkill since there is already a law in place?
They say love is blind, and we always hear that associated with looks or overlooking a spouses/partners idiosyncrasies. However, if love is truly blind, gender would also be overlooked.The second state constitutional amendment Tennessee voters will decide, is in regards to a program of property tax relief for senior citizens. You should read the amended language.In simplest terms, this amendment, should it pass, would allow the state legislature to authorize a program of property tax relief for senior citizens should they be presented with one. This amendment does not require the state legislature to do so, just allows them to do so.
My concern with this is that any property tax program for seniors would not be equally implemented across the state. For example, a senior in Knoxville may not be eligible for a property tax freeze yet a senior in Maryville may be, based on whether their respective cities/counties have implemented a property tax freeze. And herein lies the problem I see. The actual desire to implement such a program is left to the individual county's or municipality's within Tennessee. Would the seniors of TN be better served if the state legislature implemented a property tax freeze, as laid out in this amendment, as a law rather than a constitutional amendment?
Now we come to the Knox County Charter questions. This stems from the brouhaha over the constitutionality of the Knox County Charter and the validity of term limits, and which we are still awaiting a decision (answer) from the supreme court. The long and the short of it, the 3 questions to the county Charter may end up being moot. However, in case the charter is valid, these questions need to be asked of the voters, and thus should be answered prior to the supreme decision. (assuming the supreme court doesn't hand down it's answer prior to Nov. 7th)
Because the amendments to the Knox County charter were longer than 300 words each, here is the link to the full amendments. Basically, these amendments include and defines elected Officers that were not clearly defined(page 20) and included in the current charter and the question if they are/were subject to term limits. If you remember,
The county law department has argued that term limits apply only to county commissioners and the county mayor. The Charter Review Committee that drafted the amendments on the ballot says that term limits apply to all county officeholders except judges, including the sheriff, trustee, register of deeds, property assessor and county clerk.
Now the voters will decide if all officers should be subject to term limits, if it passes, or if only commissioners and the county mayor are subject to term limits, as the county law department believes, if it does not pass.
The County Code Commission (question 2) relates to the fact that when term limits were first voted on, the amendment was not filed nor was it published. Having the County Code Commission would rectify the short-comings this county has had completing their legal duties of publishing the County Code (Charter and ordinances).
The third question seems to be just a clarification, according to the Charter review Committee. I have to admit I hadn't really checked on that question before.
The County pension amendment is best explained by Sandra Clark (via R. Neal). We need to ask ourselves why sheriff deputies should not have a defined pension plan, after all they do for us, not to mention the goofy hours they work.
But Hutchison, in a interview last week, said voters should consider the life span (59 years) of an officer. Stress causes physical problems, he said, citing Lt. James Carson who was wounded in a west Knox shootout several years ago. “After 25 years, if James were to retire he would make $255 a month under our present plan,” Hutchison said. If Carson elected a 10-year payout, he would earn $690 a month for 10 years.
Under the proposed pension, deputies would get 70 percent of the average pay of their last two years as a “defined benefit.” Taxpayers would be obligated to fund any shortfall out of the operating budget.
Under the current pension plan, and based on these numbers, these deputies will retire with an income well below poverty levels. To remain with the current pension plan would put additional stress on the state (medicare to start).
Finally, City of Knoxville voters have an additional 4 questions to answer, all pertaining to pensions. I have to be honest here, I have not seen anything explaining how these changes, if passed, would impact the current pension system. Keeping that in mind...
The first question, makes sense in part, as it is written. You would think it would make sense that any changes to the city pension system should be brought to the pension board for review. Does each suggested amendment need an actuarial study, I couldn't tell you. Nor does the amendment as written discuss the additional costs of the actuarial study.
The remaining three questions sound as if there will be significant enough changes in what is available and how pensions are calculate. Are the benefits to the people collecting their pensions or to the city in having to pay less? I couldn't tell you. Perhaps someone else can let us know in comments.
If you are voting in the city of Knoxville or Knox County here is a listing of early voting centers.
See 'ya at the polls!