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NASHVILLE - The Tennessee House today approved a bill banning "sanctuary" cities with a provision also requiring local authorities to comply with federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants.

The bill passed on a 64-23 vote. Senators are expected to act on the legislation later today as members of the 110th General Assembly work furiously to wrap up their annual session.

A provision of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, would deny state economic and community grants to towns and cities that have so-called "sanctuary city policies." Tennessee does not have any sanctuary cities, critics say.

Majority Republicans beat back an amendment by Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville that sought to punish companies which employ 50 or more "illegal aliens." 

Citing this month's raid by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on a Grainger County meat-packing plant, Stewart said 

"They're there because you had a company breaking the law, allegedly and providing unlawful employment," Stewart said, later adding "this is how you address this issue, by going after employers." He called Reedy's bill "symbolic," but immigrants advocates do have concerns about some provisions.

Reedy said that he was "excited about the content of this amendment," he was nonetheless moving to table it, which the GOP-controlled chamber did on a 58-28 vote.

But some Republicans had concerns about the legislation's constitutionality. Among them was Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, who in committee sought unsuccessfully to send the bill for study over the summer and fall by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

"I'm not a lawyer but I'm told by good lawyers there are constitutional issues with this bill," said Hazlewood, who raised a host of other concerns as well. "I would ask that we vote down this bill today, recognizing that we'll come back" in 2019.

Among her concerns impacts putting additional strains on local law enforcement as well as jail overcrowding.

Reedy argued that attorneys tell him that many of his bill's provisions were upheld by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in a Texas case. Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, a congressional candidate, is the Senate sponsor.

Among other things, the Tennessee bill says local government officials cannot require the U.S. Department of Homeland Security "to obtain a warrant or demonstrate probable cause before complying with detainers or other requests from the department to maintain custody of any alien or to transfer any alien to its custody."

Nor can official prevent law enforcement "from inquiring as to the citizenship or immigration status of any person."

Concerns were also raised in debate about requiring state officials to deny state economic and community development grants to cities deemed "sanctuary cities." Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, questioned how that might impact a public hospital in a rural area where a town ran afoul of the law. 

Moreover, Fitzhugh said, law enforcement officials are no fan of the legislation because of the position they're put in due to "lack of resources" and a "lack of guidance" on what is legally required of them in dealing with federal ICE detainers.

"They don't like this bill because of  position it puts them in," Fitzhugh said.

Hazlewood said that because state Economic and Community Development Departments grants to aid business are often funneled through counties and industrial development boards involved several municipalities, other cities could be impacted.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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