When it comes to land use and zoning bills, Metro Council has developed the practice of closely listening to neighborhood residents as a primary determinant in whether the legislation passes or not.
In the last year or so, District 24 Councilman Jason Holleman believes there have been instances where public opinion on Metro zoning bills has been influenced by push polling and lobbying efforts, which sometimes contained wrong information.
In response, Holleman has filed a bill that would amend the zoning code and make reporting public lobbying efforts a condition of conducting a Council public hearing. If a group proposing a zoning change lobbies members of the public, and doesn’t report such action to Council, then the bill would be deferred by rule.
“This bill is trying to weed out people who intentionally pass out misinformation,” he said. “It’s not intended to infringe anyone’s right to political speech. It doesn’t inhibit anyone’s right to speak about anything at anytime.”
Holleman’s bill has drawn the ire of Nashville’s lobbying community, which believes it takes unprecedented action and infringes on a person’s constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech as protected by the First Amendment.
Super lobbyist James Weaver from the firm Waller Lansden Dortch and Davis registered with the Metro Clerk on June 16 so he can lobby against Holleman’s bill. The plan is to pass the bill when it is on public hearing July 7 and then defer it for more fine-turning on third reading, Holleman said.
"There is a saying in the legal biz, 'difficult cases tend to make make really bad law,’” Weaver said. “This effort and Councilman Holleman's bill is a poster child for that old saying. While our clients and I understand perhaps Councilman Holleman's intent, we sincerely and respectfully question his method. [We view this as] an unneeded, unprecedented new local regulatory scheme that seems to contain criminal liability for failure to comprehend and report the most minute details of a landowners efforts to put his or her property to its highest and best use.
“In no case can we support an ordinance that so clearly violates at least three different principles contained in the First Amendment.”
As it stands now, the bill would amend zoning code to require disclosure of lobbying, push polling and similar efforts to sway the public. Holleman said it was possible he would amend the bill so it was included in the Metro code pertaining to registered lobbyists instead.
The bill does not require those who oppose a zoning bill to register when they make similar public lobbying efforts.