NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday took issue with a move by fellow Republicans in the Legislature to order the state attorney to sue the federal government over the refugee resettlement program in Tennessee.
The governor told reporters that refugee resettlement was a major topic of discussion during a National Governors Association meeting in Washington over the weekend, and that he came away with the understanding that the program doesn't present a threat to Tennesseans.
"There are people who are coming into our country illegally who want to do this country harm, but I don't think that's the process they're coming in under," Haslam said, noting that the resettlement process can take between 18 months and three years.
The resolution overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Monday and is sponsored by Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville.
While the measure "directs" a legal challenge to be mounted, Norris said that the resolution provides for hiring an outside attorney if the Attorney General Herbert Slater were to decline to file the lawsuit.
Haslam nevertheless raised concerns about "one branch of government ordering the attorney general what to do." He was also worried about the precedent that would be set by hiring an outside attorney to represent the state.
"I'm not sure that's a really good trend for us," Haslam said.
Fears about refugee resettlement in Tennessee were heightened after last year's terrorist attacks in Paris.
Republican Sen. Mark Green of Clarksville said security concerns caused him to support the resolution.
"Our federal government has failed to protect us," Green said during Monday's debate on the Senate floor. "In certain groups of those refugees, people who want to do harm to us are infiltrating this program."
Opponents of the resolution, including dozens of protesters who came to the Capitol, argued that it would make Tennessee appear unwelcoming to immigrants.
Norris rejected those arguments.
"What could be more welcoming than a state that is willing to stand upon its rights, under the state and federal constitutions, to protect the people within its borders?" he said. "What I, ask you, could possibly be more welcoming to that?"
The resolution has been sent to the House. The governor does not have the power to veto resolutions.