Haslam plans broad-based immigration legislation

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he is working with Republican legislative leaders to develop a broad-based bill dealing with illegal immigration.

One piece would be an Arizona-style law allowing state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws.

Another would require the written portion of driver's license exams be given in English unless the person is in the U.S. legally through a work or student visa.

The law would require businesses to use the federal E-Verify program in hiring and make the state ensure illegal immigrants cannot access a number of state services.

Haslam spoke to reporters after an address to state business leaders. He cautioned he doesn't want Tennessee to set too strident a tone in its approach.

"What I want to make certain is that those businesses that have located here and anyone else who's here for a legal reason doesn't feel threatened by that in any way and doesn't decide to take their business anywhere else," Haslam said, citing the driver's license bill. "We have a lot of Japanese businesses located here and a lot of German businesses, and we want to make sure we don't do anything to inhibit that."

Germany-based Volks-wagen has built a $1 billion plant in Chattanooga that will employ 2,000 people and manufacture Passats. Wacker Chemical, another German company, is building a $1.2 billion plant in Bradley County that will employ 500 people.

Similar "English-only" bills last year drew concerns from VW, Nissan and other businesses.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said there has been discussion about moving separate bills and he was unaware of talk of a comprehensive bill.

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With regard to the drivers' license bill, McCormick said, "I feel good ... as long as we make sure that people who make foreign investments in this country don't have restricted driving rights. That's my main concern -- that it doesn't negatively impact economic development efforts. And we need to be very careful in the signals that we send on that issue."

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfeesboro, said cracking down on illegal immigrants won't hurt the state's image.

"This is such a hot issue in our state, a lot of those businesses, industries and families will want to come here because we're doing the right thing. It's about being legal, not illegal," Ketron said.

In Georgia, a bill that would require that driver's license tests be given only in English was tabled Wednesday. The test now is offered in 14 languages.

An amendment that passed Wednesday requires that by Jan. 1, 2012, all written and oral examinations include at least five questions "which necessitate an ability to read warning signs in English that are more than three words long, including, but not limited warning signs reading 'use caution hazardous conditions ahead.'"

Staff writer Perla Trevizo contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.