The House voted Monday to authorize Lake City to change its name to Rocky Top despite questions about a pending lawsuit to block the move.
The approved 89-0 for the bill, though three legislators abstained. One of them was Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who expressed concern about the lawsuit and the name change generally in a floor speech.
“When we think of Rocky Top, we don’t think of one particular entity. We think of the entire state of Tennessee,” said Armstrong. “It’s kind of a generic name… I think it belongs to everybody in the state of Tennessee.”
He also referred to the lawsuit, brought by Gatlinburg-based House of Bryant, which owns the rights to the song and multiple Rocky Top trademarks.
“Certainly there are some rights that the songwriter has,” Armstrong said. “I was hoping you would get this settled before we start moving on this.”
Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, sponsor of the bill, said the lawsuit was not settled but he has discussed the matter with attorneys and has been assure “the state has no liability in that potential suit if it goes forward.”
Ragan also said members of the City Council of Lake City – several of whom were present for the vote – will handle the name in a manner upholding the reputation and recognition that the song has achieved.
Added state Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro: “The FBI used the name Rocky Top and they didn’t pay any royalties on that.”
Rocky Top was the code name used by the FBI for a state government corruption investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of five former legislators.
Rep. Jeremy Faision, R-Cosby, voted for the bill, though he made a point of declaring in a speech that the songwriters actually had in mind Rocky Top Mountain in Cocke County when the tune was written.
The bill has yet to be scheduled for a vote in the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.