NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam today signed a bill requiring cities and towns to hold referendums in order to annex new properties.

The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, had previously passed both branches of the General Assembly to make it to the governor's desk.

The bill requires towns to obtain the consent of the land owner before annexing property, or to put the proposed annexation on a ballot in the form of a referendum and gain the approval of a majority of the voters.

Additionally, the bill stipulates that land used primarily for agriculture cannot be annexed by any means unless the farmer consents.

"This was truly a movement by the people and would not have occurred without the teamwork of many making their wishes known to state government," Carter said. "Equally important, the wishes of the people were conveyed to state legislators who listened to them and ignored the special interests, well-funded lobbyists and powerful city officials, to enforce the will of the people."

Carter hailed the legislation as an end to "forced annexation," saying that it "gives Tennesseans the right to vote" on annexations.

Currently, annexations in Tennessee can be affected by cities or towns in the form of an ordinance, which requires only two majority votes by the town's governing council or board of aldermen. Tennessee is one of only six states that allow annexations without a referendum vote. Ordinance annexations have been permitted in Tennessee since 1955. Prior to that, expansions of cities and towns had to be approved by the state legislature.

Last year, state lawmakers approved a measure that placed a one-year moratorium on annexations by ordinance while the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) studied the issue.

The legislation signed by Gov. Haslam Thursday extends that moratorium, which was set to expire this month, until May 2015 while TACIR completes its study. However, it automatically revokes the statutes allowing annexation by ordinance at that point, meaning ordinance annexations have effectively ended as an option for Tennessee cities and towns looking to expand their borders.

The last annexation by ordinance within Scott County came last year, when Huntsville's board of mayor and aldermen approved an ordinance annexing a portion of the Highlander Estates subdivision on the northwest side of town. However, that annexation was immediately placed in limbo, as it came after the retroactive date for the bill placing a one-year moratorium on annexations.