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VOL. 131 | NO. 79 | Wednesday, April 20, 2016

House Passes Resolution Directing State to Sue Over Refugees

SHEILA BURKE, Associated Press

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – A resolution that would order Tennessee to sue the federal government over its refugee resettlement program passed Monday in the state House. Senate counterparts previously approved the resolution and would only have to agree to a change that would allow a private law firm to sue on behalf of the state before the measure becomes law.

Gov. Bill Haslam cannot veto it because it is a resolution and not a bill.

Immigrant rights groups condemned the proposal after the vote, saying the true intention of the measure was to stop or limit Muslim refugee resettlement in Tennessee. They also said the state would appear unwelcoming.

"We are disappointed but not surprised by the House of Representatives' vote today," said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

She added in her statement, "The passage of this resolution, and the litigation that will follow, puts Tennessee on the wrong side of history."

Fears about refugee resettlement in Tennessee were heightened after last November'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 provided to the refugees.

The states of Texas and Alabama have sued the federal government over the refugee rights program.

The resolution was sponsored by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.

Some lawmakers raised concerns during debate about letting private legal firms step in to sue on behalf of the Tennessee, even if it is for free, as opposed to getting the state attorney general to do the legal work.

"I understand this is a well-intended resolution, but I think this goes down a very dangerous path, essentially opening up our government to whatever band of activist lawyer happens to roll along and want to conduct so-called free litigation for us," said Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.

But Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, a Lancaster Republican who supports the resolution, said the measure was necessary because federal government overreach with the program.

"We have no say what happens in our borders," Weaver said. "We are not consulted."

Teatro, of the immigrant and refugee rights group, has previously said there about 1,600 refugees resettled in the state each year with about 1,100 of them moving into Nashville.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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