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VOL. 40 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 11, 2016

Resolution ordering refugee lawsuit advances in House

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Legislation that would order the state of Tennessee to sue the federal government over the refugee resettlement program is advancing over concerns by both the governor and refugee rights groups.

The joint resolution passed in the House State Government Subcommittee on Wednesday and moves to a full committee vote. It was overwhelmingly approved in the Senate last month. The move would become law if approved by the House, because the governor has no veto power over resolutions. The resolution has the backing of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and a number of other powerful lawmakers.

Fears about refugee resettlement in Tennessee were heightened after last year's terrorist attacks in Paris. Aside from security concerns, some lawmakers have argued that the refugee program leaves states without a say about who comes in and forces them to foot the bill for the education, health and other taxpayer-funded services provi ded for refugees.

Refugee rights advocates testified before the committee voted, telling lawmakers that it would send the wrong message to refugees and embarrass the state.

"At worst it ends refugee resettlement," Holly Johnson, director of the Tennessee Office of Refugees, told lawmakers on the subcommittee. "At best, we become fodder for late night talk show hosts."

There are only about 1,600 refugees resettled in the state each year with about 1,100 of them moving into Nashville, Stephanie Teatro, of the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, told lawmakers. She said many of them have become valuable taxpaying members of the community.

But Rep. Terri Weaver, R-Lancaster, told members that this was not an anti-refugee bill and noted that her father and his family members were refugees from Yugoslavia. She said the measure would allow Tennessee to have a say in the process.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has taken issue with the proposal. Haslam has said that there are people who are coming into the country illegally who want to do harm, but he said they aren't coming in via the refugee program. He noted that the resettlement process can take between 18 months and three years.

So far Texas and Alabama have sued the federal government over the refugee rights program.

The resolution directs an outside law firm to sue if state Attorney General Herbert Slatery will not.

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