Tennessee General Assembly Moves Another Step Closer to Refugee Lawsuit Against Feds

NASHVILLE, Tennessee—A resolution to sue the federal government’s refugee-resettlement program cleared a subcommittee hurdle in Tennessee’s General Assembly on Wednesday, amid strong opposition from left-wing groups, business interests, and the state’s Republican governor.

The resolution, which cites the Tenth Amendment‘s limits on federal powers, now moves on to the full State and Local Government committee next week, where it faces another vote. If the resolution is approved by the committee, it then faces two additional hurdles prior to coming to a final vote on the floor of the House.

More than 70 members of the 99-member House of Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution, which is powered by widespread public opposition to the transfer of mostly unskilled and welfare-dependent Middle Eastern migrants into the state.

But Republican Governor Haslam has signaled his opposition to the resolution, the passage of which would publicly and legally undermine his leadership of the state.

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) is the lead sponsor of the resolution in the House.

Last month, the resolution, titled Senate Joint Resolution 467, sailed through the State Senate on a 27 to 5 vote. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey was the named sponsor of the resolution. Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) were among the other sponsors.

But Haslam, a Republican, and his allies in the House of Representatives have thrown up a number of hurdles to kill the popular resolution and prevent it from coming to the floor of the House, where it likely will be overwhelmingly approved.

Rather than simply send the resolution to one committee (State and Local Government) for review and passage prior to a potential vote on the House floor, Speaker Beth Harwell chose to acquiesce to a phony “fiscal note” attached to the resolution by allies of Governor Haslam, which inaccurately claimed that passing the resolution would cost the state of Tennessee at least $10,000, and sent it to two committees for consideration:

Sources tell Breitbart News that State Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville), chairman of one committee considering the bill, the State Government Committee, is not among the 71 members of the Tennessee House who have have signed on to a letter of support for the resolution. Ramsey has been fully briefed about the implications of the federal program for the state of Tennessee, sources add.

State Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin), chairman of the other committee considering the bill, the Finance and Ways and Means Committee, has apparently signed the letter of support for the resolution, but sources tell Breitbart News his long time alliance with Governor Haslam could impact how he votes on the bill in committee.

As Breitbart News has extensively reported in numerous articles, the Thomas More Law Center, a well respected conservative public interest law firm with significant experience in this type of litigation, has already offered to represent the state of Tennessee at no cost in the proposed litigation.

Breitbart News has obtained a copy of the fiscal note, and can confirm that it makes no reference whatsoever to the Thomas More Law Center’s offer to represent the state. The note, dated February 13, 2016, and signed by Krista Lee, executive director of the Tennessee General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee, reads, in part:

ESTIMATED FISCAL IMPACT:

Other Fiscal Impact – To the extent the state obtains services from outside counsel for any type of action identified by the bill, the one-time increase in state expenditures is reasonably estimated to exceed $10,000.

Assumptions:

• According to the Attorney General, the precise impact to the state to commence such action is dependent on multiple unknown variables and cannot be reasonably determined.

• In the event the Attorney General in conjunction with the Speakers of the Senate and House of Representative elects to employ the services of outside counsel, or in the event the Attorney General declines to commence any such action and the Speakers of the Senate and House of Representatives elects to employ the services of outside counsel, there will be a one-time increase in state expenditures.

• The extent of any increased state expenditures for employing the services of outside counsel is dependent upon the number of civil actions initiated and the extent of any such actions.

• To the extent outside counsel is employed for any action, the one-time increase in state expenditures is reasonably estimated to be exceed $10,000.

Lee was appointed executive director of the Fiscal Review Committee in October, following an eleven year tenure there as a research analyst.

Governor Haslam has been aided in his efforts to kill the resolution by a tiny but vocal and well-funded far left group of organizations that have loudly proclaimed misleading and deceptive arguments which have been highlighted, repeated, and embellished by the Gannett-owned Tennessean, which reported:

A House subcommittee on Wednesday approved a resolution to sue the federal government over refugee resettlement, despite concerns from Gov. Bill Haslam and organizations representing refugees. . .

Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, and Holly Johnson, state refugee coordinator for Catholic Charities, warned the committee that the lawsuit would perpetuate a culture of fear over refugees that sends the wrong message.

Teatro suggested the state wait to see what happens in Alabama and Texas, which is also suing the federal government over refugee resettlement, before letting Tennessee move forward.

In an attempt to bolster her argument, Johnson cited public comments by Haslam, in which the governor said those seeking to harm the country are not coming into the United States through the refugee resettlement program.

Both Teatro and Johnson have noted the financial benefit that refugees provide the state — a 2013 report presented to the Joint Government Operations Legislative Advisory Committee determined that refugees and their descendants provided $1.4 billion in revenue for Tennessee between 1990 and 2012, compared with requiring $753 million in state support.

After hearing Weaver, who said her parents were refugees, defend the measure, the subcommittee took a voice vote to send the measure to the full House State Government Committee. Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory, appeared to be the lone dissenter.

Governor Haslam claims the Syrian and other refugees settled in Tennessee under the federal program administered by Catholic Charities do not pose a security threat to Tennesseans. “To be honest with you, the more I learn about the vetting process, it is a pretty good process,” he told the Rotary Club of Nashville in November. “It’s 20 steps. It takes a year and a half to two years on average, and people are in refugee camps that we need to address.”

“Unfortunately there’s an image out there that Syrian refugees are all terrorists. And the reality is that’s not true,” the Chattanooga Times Free-Press reported he said at the same event. “I think of the people who’ve come into the country in the last two years, 2 percent of them are single males. And those are people who have documented evidence are in threat of persecution either because of their religious or political beliefs. The vast majority are families,” he claimed.

On Wednesday, however, Jeh Johnson, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, testified before Congress “that the United States’s acceptance of Syrian refugees could pose a national security risk.” As The Hill reported:

Even as President Obama has called for the U.S. to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, Secretary Jeh Johnson maintained during a hearing on Capitol Hill that the initiative is not risk-free.

“In all candor, I do agree that the refugee flow coming out of Iraq and Syria represents a potential opportunity for terrorist organizations to move its members into other nations for potential attacks,” Johnson testified before the House Homeland Security Committee. “So I agree that there is that potential, which is why just within the last several months we have enhanced our vetting for refugees.”
The claim hints at the problems vexing the Obama administration as it seeks to ramp up the number of refugees brought into the country.

The administration is so far falling far behind Obama’s pledge to bring in 10,000 new Syrian refugees this fiscal year. Since October, the U.S. has brought in just 1,115 of the refugees.

When the full State and Local Government Committee meets next week to consider the resolution, far-left organizations are expected to bring a loud and aggressive group of protesters to the hearing, sources familiar with the Tennessee General Assembly tell Breitbart News.

You can watch the subcommittee’s deliberations on SJR 467 and the subsequent voice vote to pass it out of committee here.

If the resolution is passed by the full State and Local Government Committee, it then faces two additional hurdles, all imposed by the phony fiscal note, prior to coming to a full vote on the floor of the House.

It will first go to a subcommittee of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin), a member of the Joint Fiscal Review Committee that hired executive director Krista Lee in October. If it is passed out of that subcommittee, it will then go to the full Finance, Ways and Means Committee. Only if it makes out of the full committee will it go to the floor of the House. By then, it will be well into April, near the expected end of the current session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

These two extra hurdles will remain unless Speaker Harwell asks for the removal of the phony fiscal note, in which case the resolution could go directly to the floor of the House for a vote if it is voted out of the full State and Local Government Committee next week.

If the House passes the resolution, then the entire Tennessee General Assembly will then act to hire the Thomas More Law Center, and the lawsuit will be filed.

If Governor Haslam and the far left groups that oppose the resolution succeed through legislative skullduggery to prevent it from coming to the House for a vote, the State Senate will proceed with the lawsuit on its own.


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